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ABA Therapy

Teaching Resilience To Children On The Autism Spectrum

Parenting a child with autism comes with its unique set of challenges and joys. One of the areas that caregivers often focus on is teaching children with autism to be tolerant of inconveniences, such as sensory issues, changes in schedule, and the need to be patient. These challenges can be overwhelming for both the child and their family, but with proper reinforcement, understanding, and effective strategies – it’s possible to help children develop tolerance and adaptability in these situations.

Understanding Autism and Sensory Sensitivities

Children with autism often experience sensory sensitivities that can range from hypersensitivity (overreacting to sensory stimuli) to hyposensitivity (underreacting to sensory stimuli). Noises, lights, textures, and even certain smells can trigger intense reactions in these children, leading to discomfort and even meltdowns.

To teach tolerance for sensory issues, it’s important to:

  1. Create a Safe Space: Designate a calming space where your child can retreat when sensory overload occurs. Whether it’s a quiet private room, a comfortable safe space, or your child’s favorite sensory activity, equip this area with sensory tools like weighted blankets, noise-canceling headphones, or fidget toys. If traveling, think about ways you can bring elements of home with you. That can be a beanbag, puzzle, or a calming item like a tablet, fidget spinner, or stress ball.

  2. Gradual Exposure: Introduce sensory stimuli gradually. Start with low-intensity experiences and slowly increase the exposure as your child becomes more comfortable. This can help desensitize them over time. An example could be walking on the shoreline of a beach, stepping into the water, and gradually swimming in the waves.

  3. Positive Reinforcement: Reward your child for trying to tolerate sensory experiences. Praise their efforts and acknowl edge their progress, no matter how small. Make a point to solidify the moment in memory by commenting on it and offering praise. This positive reinforcement can motivate them to continue working on their tolerance.

It is important to express and explain that these sensory experiences, even the unpleasant ones, will pass. Sometimes, it’s just a momentary thing like yardwork, but in some environments like a loud cafeteria, it may be better to find another option, like eating on a bench outside.

Navigating Schedule Changes

Children with autism often thrive on routine and predictability. Sudden changes in their schedule can be incredibly distressing for them. However, life is full of unexpected events, so teaching them to adapt to change is a valuable skill.

Here’s how to help your child tolerate changes in their schedule:

  1. Visual Schedules: Use visual aids like schedules or calendars to prepare your child for upcoming changes. This helps them anticipate and mentally prepare for alterations in routine by identifying and breaking down challenging tasks into more easily manageable steps.

  2. Social Stories: Create social stories that explain why changes are happening and what to expect. Reading these stories together can provide comfort and understanding by preparing for new experiences by giving examples of what to

  3.  expect to reduce anxiety around the unknown.

  4. Practice Flexibility: Similar to the gradual exposure in the sensory example above, introduce minor changes intentionally in controlled environments. Gradually expose your child to different situations so that they become more adaptable over time.

Life is fluid; things change all the time, and an important part of growing up is to learn to roll with these punches. Sometimes, things get rescheduled or canceled, or something comes up that takes precedence.  Express the importance of being adaptable in these situations to your child and how it is not the end of the world.

Patience and Self-Regulation

Being patient or sitting still for long periods of time can be hard, especially for children diagnosed with autism. A child with autism can grow impatient and have a tantrum because they may have to face a long wait time or need to accomplish tasks that require extra attention.

  1. Find good distractions: Play I-Spy or try counting the white tiles on the floor. The key here is to bring their attention to something calming to lighten the mood.

  2. Sensory toys: To help lessen and prevent sensory overloads, children can play with sensory toys to help center their sense of focus and understand their senses. It’s important for parents to know what triggers their child and what tools

  3.  can calm them down. This could be fidget spinners, squeeze balls, or even slime/putty.

  4. Positive Reinforcement: Offer rewards for good behavior beforehand. Be careful not to “bribe” the child by only offering a reward during or after a meltdown. This can make positive reinforcement a negative.

If a child does experience an emotional outburst, try not to show frustration, as this may feed into their poor emotional state. Take a deep breath and communicate with your child. Level with them, literally. Get down to their level, as they can’t come up to yours, and calmly talk through their frustration. Ask what caused their stress, then explain the importance of the task and why you need to finish it.

Being patient with someone, especially someone who’s struggling, isn’t just being respectful – it’s the right thing to do! Be calm, understanding, and lead by example.

Have Patience With It

Teaching tolerance and patience to children with autism is a journey that requires understanding and empathy. By acknowledging and respecting their sensory sensitivities, providing tools to manage change, and promoting self-regulation techniques, caregivers can empower their children to navigate inconveniences with greater ease.

Remember that every child is unique, so tailor your approach to their individual needs. With consistent effort and a supportive environment, children with autism can develop valuable skills that will serve them well throughout their lives.

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