by Bonnie Arnwine
Chances are that if you are a child care provider and you take on numerous projects, you're going to come across kids with Autism or Sensory Disorders. Many parents will be responsible and give you detailed advice, but sometimes they expect you to already know about Autism or Sensory Disorders. Because of this they may only give you one quick tip or some basic advice you might not understand. If you find yourself providing care for a kid, toddler or even teenager with Autism, here are 4 things to ask the parents and that you should know before they leave and you start your first day on the job.
What are signs I should look for that indicate the child is getting upset, nervous or heading for a meltdown?
A hallmark of autism is communication challenges. Many kids with autism can't communicate that they are becoming uncomfortable through words. Instead their behavior will tell you they need help calming down. Some kids begin humming, pacing the floor or acting unusual. Ask parents if there are any behaviors you should watch for and what to do when you see this.
Many parents will have a room or space set aside as a calm down or quiet room for when their child becomes upset or starts moving toward a full blown meltdown. It's important for you to know that this is not somewhere to send the child if they do something wrong and need a time out. It is only used for calming down and should never be associated with punishment. When you're in the room, look around and figure out what products are in there.
Understand therapy equipment.
Many time families with an autistic child have some unusual products you may have not seen before. Ask what each product you don't know how to use is and how to use it. Then ask questions about which products and which product combinations work best to help prevent or calm down a tantrum. If there is something that can be tricky to work like some weighted vests, ask the parents how they get their kids to put it on. You should also take notes while they are talking and if the parents give any hints to be able to tell what kind of tantrum it might be (caused by visual, noise or tactile irritations, etc.) ask them which products they should go for first.
Playing with the kids.
One thing to be cautious of is over-stimulating the person with Autism. If you notice they are exhibiting a lot of odd behaviors or becoming agitated, move on to something relaxing. Many children love to explore certain senses. They may enjoy rocking in a chair or playing with finger paints. Find out from the parents what kind of sensory exploration their child enjoys. Interestingly enough many children with autism also hate certain sensory play so find out if there is anything you should avoid. For example one child with autism may love finger paints, but the next child will have a tantrum if you even show them the paints.
When playing with the child, keep in mind their developmental age rather than their actual age. Many kids with autism have significant social delays, so simple turn taking games are interesting and engaging for them even if they seem to be too "old" to play it. When you play with an autistic child at their developmental level you are keeping them engaged in the world and helping them to develop essential skills. Don't worry if it is "age appropriate."
Keep an eye on behavioral changes and track them if you can.
The main thing when interacting and playing with a child or teenager who has Autism is to watch their behaviors. If for some reason they start to act different, show signs of irritation or that they could be having a meltdown, find a way to help calm it and make sure you have a notebook so you can document the behavior. Write down the behavior, what happened just before the child starting exhibiting the behavior and what you did to help prevent it from getting worse. Tracking behavior can help you, the parents and even the therapists working with the autistic child create strategies to help the child in the future.
Remember kids with autism are kids. They often are curious, love to have fun and can be amazingly smart. Don't hold any assumptions, working with a child with autism can be incredibly rewarding and they will often surprise you with what they can do. Just like kids without Autism, each one is unique, you just need to prepare in case of a tantrum and know how to help them calm down. Have the parents walk you through the house, show you the calm down room and also walk you through the most effective products they have. You'll also want to keep your own notebook of what works and share it with the parents when they get back. There is a high demand for child care for kids with Autism and the more you can learn, the better you will be able to handle and work with these amazing kids.
About the Author
Bonnie Arnwine is the founder of National Autism Resources. For the past 12+ years she has dedicated her life to helping people across the Autism Spectrum get through issues, educate families and friends of people with Autism and has also been a speaker across the country at national conventions.