Autism Awareness Month 2023
As we approach the end of Autism Awareness Month 2023, we felt it important to explore how we can continue spreading the awareness of autism throughout every month of the year. In this blog, we take a look at the importance of acceptance and the support that is available to families to help their children thrive.
What is Autism Awareness Month?
April marks the celebration of Autism Awareness Month (2023), and as people come together to recognise our differences and spread awareness, we explore what autism is and how you can support a child with autism.
It is an occasion for people to come together to spread awareness and understanding. The month of awareness offers a great opportunity to promote acceptance and ways to support the increasing number of people who receive a diagnosis each year.
Autism is not one size fits all, each child has their own individual strengths and needs, and there is plenty of support available. At Spurgeons, we offer autism family support accredited by the National Autistic Society to help you and your family along your journey. Let’s explore what we can do to build awareness of autism.
What is autism?
Autism (ASC) is a lifelong condition that often appears in the early stages of a child’s life. This condition often affects areas of social communication, and it is common that children with autism display difficulties in expressing themselves verbally and non-verbally, which can impact upon them socially.
Autistic children often interact with the world around them in a different way to others, but as we are all individuals, with our own ways of thinking and learning, these should never be viewed negatively. Every child is different, and the amazing things that each child can do, regardless of the challenges they face, are unique and should be treated as such.
Autism is a ‘spectrum disorder’, meaning that the condition affects people in different ways across all abilities, strengths, difficulties, and intelligence. The main key areas of difference are social communication and interaction, restricted/repetitive behaviours or interests and sensory differences.
Social communication –
This includes using and understanding verbal and non-verbal language, such as gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice. Many autistic people have a very literal understanding of language and think people always mean exactly what they say. It might be difficult to use or understand:
- Facial expressions
- Tone of voice
- Jokes and sarcasm.
The give and take of social communication may not be instinctive and may lead to one-sided interactions.
Social interaction –
This includes recognising and understanding other people’s feelings and managing their own. Navigating the social world can be challenging due to:
- Differences in knowing how to behave around other people, for example, interaction with a friend in playground is different to the headteacher in the corridor
- Differences in understanding the unwritten rules of behaviour. ‘Just know information’
- Differences in understanding how to interact with other people can impact on friendships. Some may want to interact with other people and make friends but may be unsure how to go about it.
- Restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviours, activities, or interests.
The world can seem a very unpredictable and confusing place to autistic people, who often prefer to have a daily routine, so they know what is going to happen every day. They may want to always travel the same way to and from school or do exactly the same activity – change may cause anxiety, so we may need to prepare for this.
Highly focused interests –
Many autistic people have intense and highly focused interests, often from a young age. These can change over time or be lifelong. They can include things like art, music, trains and computers, or they could be a little more unusual.
The interest may:
- Provide structure, order and predictability, and be a coping mechanism to help them deal with the uncertainties of daily life
- Be a way to start conversations and feel more self-assured in social situations
- Help them to relax and feel happy
Many people on the autism spectrum have differences in how they process everyday sensory information. Any of the senses may be over- or under-sensitive, or both, at different times.
Children can be over- or under-sensitive to a variety of different sensory input. Responses can be inconsistent and can vary on a daily basis.
If a child is over-sensitive, they may hear sounds that others can’t, show sensitivity to light, find certain textures uncomfortable or react strongly to other people touching them. If a child is under-sensitive, however, they may not notice the noises around them, may not appear to see things that other people do or may show a lack of awareness of other people touching them or if they hurt themselves.
The brain is able to try and ensure that we are at the right level of arousal or alertness for what we are trying to do. If a child is highly aroused or anxious, they may register more sensory information than normal, becoming over-sensitive.
Our brain is programmed to respond to sensory input to protect us from any potential harm. When the brain is interpreting sensory input, part of this interpretation is to try and determine whether the input is potentially harmful. Some children react negatively or with fear to sensory input that is generally considered inoffensive. This can put the child into a ‘fright, flight or fight’ reaction.
Autistic children may find it difficult to pay attention to more than one sensory ‘channel’ at a time. If they are listening to you, they may not be able to look at you. Many autistic children find it difficult to link back to past experiences and this makes it very difficult when they are trying to make sense of sensory input.
Support for Children with Autism
Whether you have recently discovered that your child might have an autism spectrum condition, or whether you are looking for some practical tips to help your child prosper, there are plenty of things we all can do to provide effective support for children with autism.
As we reach the end of Autism Awareness Month 2023, let’s take a look at some of the things that parents can do to support their child:
- Make sure you do your research. It’s always good to be prepared for future challenges, and to understand what children need so you can best support them.
- Each child is different, and that is what makes them so wonderful. Shift your focus from how your child is unique and enjoy them for who they are.
- When providing support for children with autism, routine and structure is something that a child often needs and has a positive impact upon how they navigate each and every day. Create a schedule that works for you and your child and stick to it. If your child is socialising and communicating using signs in the classroom for example, encourage them to do so at home. All children benefit from consistency and routine.
- Find non-verbal ways to communicate and connect. When you are aware of your child’s needs, it becomes easier to spot non-verbal cues.
Parenting a child with autism
For a unique look into parenting a child with autism, our colleagues at Dad.Info spoke to dad Stuart about life parenting an autistic child, and how the free EarlyBird course helped his family.
What were some of the difficulties and challenges that you faced as a dad?
Raising three young children alongside my wife Aimee is an adventure for sure. We have another daughter, Mollie, who is 5 and has Down Syndrome. We expected many challenges with Mollie, due to the diagnosis.
While the majority of our attention and effort was going into raising Mollie, we were also really aware that Darcie was struggling with her behaviour. That’s not to say she was overly naughty. She just struggled to focus and listen to instruction. It was almost like she wasn’t in the room with us. She was hyper focused on what she was into at that time.
Anything for Darcie that has a routine, or a structure is an opportunity for an outburst or a meltdown. It can be anything from having a hot meal at lunchtime rather than sandwiches, or us not having the same brand of food that she’s used too.
Trying to meet or maintain cultural and family expectations gave us more issues. The old saying, “well in my childhood, I wouldn’t have been allowed to have behaved in that way”, only resulted in more stress and anxiety.
Has facing those challenges in parenting affected you personally?
Parenting is hard, even without the additional needs element. I began to feel overwhelmed with everything. I felt I spent every moment that I was awake either shouting or being frustrated with my children’s behaviour. It got to the point where I self-referred for mental health help. The situation was damaging my marriage and our family life.
What advice would you give to other fathers parenting an autistic child?
Put yourself out there and reach out to other dads and families, don’t do this on your own.
Very often activities for our children are attended just by mums. If you are in the position where you can get to a group, get there.
This interview was originally published on Dad.Info
Our Services – Autism Support for Parents
Here at Spurgeons we understand how difficult and challenging it can be for a parent at times like these, but looking for support is the best thing to do. That is why we are here for you and have plenty of autism support for families available.
Raising a child with autism can be both challenging and rewarding. They will have strengths and abilities that appear when a parent engages with them in a way that works best for their child.
If you’re looking for autism support for parents we offer two National Autistic Society Courses – the EarlyBird Plus Course for 4 – 10-year-olds, and the Teen Life course for children between 11 and 16.
These courses are designed to provide autism support for parents and families to understand more about autism and how best to support their children. The focus tends to be on communication, routine and social understanding to reduce anxiety and empower parents and their children to manage challenges.