Unconditional and unjudgmental love. As a parent, we play the crucial role of key attachment figures in our children’s lives. It is common for parents to be concerned about spoiling the child when showing such unconditional love, but this is vastly different from the lack of discipline or giving in endlessly to your child. Love can be conveyed to our children in every aspect of our interaction with them. This, of course, includes times when we have to say no. Naturally, as parents, we want what’s best for our children. But in wanting what we feel is best for them, we often unintentionally overlook how they may feel in the process. This is particularly damaging to the parent-child relationship for children with autism. For most children with autism, they may not be able to sufficiently express their feelings and intentions or understand that of others. This can be very frustrating for them on a daily basis, and all the more so when they are denied things that they want. Thus, especially when we say no to our children, it is important to keep in mind to respect their emotions whilst being firm. Unsurprisingly, social settings can be especially daunting for children on the spectrum. Having had a whole day of stressors, children will look forward to coming home to a warm, loving environment. Such unconditional and unjudgmental love makes our children feel accepted and supported, which ultimately translates to happy and well-adjusted children as they continue to learn and grow.
Be patient and resilient. Understandably, when parents take the initiative to interact with their children, they feel hurt when the children do not respond in ways they expect. Our children may not respond immediately, and they may find it difficult to regulate their emotions at times so our efforts may be faced with a lack of response or seemingly aversive responses. While easier said than done, parents should remind themselves that more often than not, such responses should not be taken personally. Our children may react in such ways simply because they do not feel ready but do not know how to express it. At the same time, one trait that presents in most children with autism is rigidity. What this means for our children is that they typically will show some extent of resistance to change and novelty. It would usually take some time for our children to get comfortable with any new activity or task, even if it was meant to be a fun game solely for their enjoyment. Be patient, keep trying, and don’t give up!
Get everyone involved. Nothing does better for a child with autism than a strong and supportive social network. Be it family relatives, siblings or their school teachers and peers, a child surrounded by people who love them are more likely to find the internal motivation and courage to learn to maneuver through stressful social situations and interactions. At the same time, since people show love in a myriad of ways, our children will essentially be exposed to many ways in which they can learn to show love, until they find expressions of love they are comfortable with.
Take care of yourself. Being a parent is certainly not easy. It means having to worry day in and day out about your child’s every want and need, piled on with a mass of other work-related stressors. When we begin neglecting our mental health, this takes a toll on the parent-child relationship. This is because no matter how much parents may try to hide it, our children pick up on various signs of distress that we subconsciously show. This may lead to further frustration and confusion for our children, which may subsequently translate to an increase in anxiety levels and poorer emotion regulation in them. Thus, it is of utmost importance to remember to set aside time for some self-care amidst our busy schedules. Joining parent support groups in also a good option to consider, as they are good platforms where parents with children on the spectrum can share caregiving tips and a variety of other learning resources.
Written by Jiayi.
Ammacher, J. (2017, March 21). Adapting the 5 Love Languages for children with autism. Retrieved January 10, 2021, from https://springbrookautismbehavioral.com/portfolio-item/the-five-love-languages-and-children-with-autism/
Rudy, L. J. (2020, January 25). 8 Ways to Build a Strong, Loving Bond With Your Autistic Child. Retrieved January 10, 2021, from https://www.verywellhealth.com/build-a-strong-loving-bond-with-your-autistic-child-260376
S. (n.d.). Interacting with a Child Who Has Autism Spectrum Disorder. Retrieved January 10, 2021, from https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=interacting-with-a-child-who-has-autism-spectrum-disorder-160-46