There are many things a family can do to help their child who is on the spectrum. Your house doesn’t have to become the model pre-school classrooms, packed with toys and creativity centers, and you don’t have to become Professor Skinner to teach your child. There are many simple, small, but powerful environmental changes that can be made in your home and family dynamic that will help your child learn.
These are some of the things a family can do at home to make life happier & calmer for all:
Create an environment of consistency. Such an environment is conducive for reinforcing learning & various skills taught in therapy. So if your child is going to an Autism center, learn how to replicate, as much as possible, the expectations and requirements of your child’s behavior, as well as how therapists at the center react to those behaviors. Consistency of expectations for behavior help your child transfer the behavioral skills to new setting. Consistency in your interaction and reactions to specific behaviors is important for mastering, maintaining and generalizing those new skills.
Make a schedule and stick to it. Individuals with ASD thrive best when living with a structured schedule for daily living. This is an extension of their need for consistency in their life. Create a schedule for your child, with fixed timelines for meals & snacks, therapy / school, playtime, free time and bedtime. Prepare your child in advance if the schedule is going to change be it for a day, a long period of time, or even permanently.
Reward good behavior also known as “reinforcement“. Reinforcement, in ABA terms, means any consequence that increases the behavior that came right before the consequence, and is a crucial component of ABA therapy. It involves rewarding a child for doing a desired behavior, such as sharing a toy with a sibling. This reward can be as simple as saying, “Hey! I saw you share your favorite car with your sister, how generous!” It could be a hug, high five, or pat on the back. Possibly giving your children a favorite snack such as “You are being so generous and kind to each other while you are playing; here is popcorn for you to share while you finish your game.” Make sure that you tell your child specifically the behavior what behavior you are reinforcing and try to give the reinforcement as closely as possible to the moment the desired behavior occurred.
Create a safe home environment. Safety proof the home as much as possible to create a danger – free zone particularly if they are prone to self harm or having a ‘meltdown’. The home must be the place where the child is safest and secure. The safety proofing should extend to the backyard and the front yard.
Create a “me zone” for the child such a bedroom, failing which a quiet part of the house where the child can relax, play, feel secure and retreat to in case they feel overwhelmed / uncomfortable or threatened. This involves making and establishing boundaries which the child can comprehend.
Be alert to sensory sensitiveness. Many children on the spectrum are hypersensitive to light, sound, touch, taste, and smell. Take time to understand which sights, sounds, smells, movements, and tactile sensations trigger a negative response in the child. Once you figure this out, then you and the family can eliminate these triggers. It could be bright lights, certain kinds of sounds & music, or particular odors.
Have fun with your child on a daily basis. Playtime / fun time when the child is alert & more responsive. A child is a child. Treat them no differently than you would a neurotypical. Playtime is a good way to bring down barriers and open them to social skills without being “preachy”. Playtime has many benefits and brings the family closer.