A parent's guide to autism

Haroon Noreen, who has autism, photographed by Robin Hammond

Parents often feel relieved when they finally receive a diagnosis of autism because they now have an explanation for their child's unusual behaviour.

Receiving a diagnosis may come as a great shock, and it can take a while to accept what you're being told. Try to remember that although it may feel like the end of the world, your son or daughter is the same person they've always been. The only difference is that you are now aware of what condition they have and you can begin to help them make the most of their potential and to live life to the fullest.

Coping at home

Here are a few things to consider. They're all covered more fully by The National Autistic Society (NAS) on their website.

Behaviour

There is a wide range of reasons why people with autism may have difficulties with behaviour. Autism is a social and communication disorder, meaning that people affected may find the world a confusing, isolating and daunting place at times. It is important to remember that bad behaviour is not a result of bad parenting. There are, however, a number of strategies that can be employed to help, such as consistency, patience, regular exercise and remembering that punishment rarely works.

For more information, see Understanding behaviour on the NAS website.

Sleep and autism

Almost all children with autism are likely to suffer from disturbed sleep patterns at some point or another. Sleep problems can be divided into two main groups: settling problems, where the child has difficulty going to sleep at the appropriate time, and waking problems, where the child wakes repeatedly during the night.

If you think your child may have a sleep disorder and you want to get an idea of the extent of the problem, it's a good idea to keep a sleep diary as a first step to solving the problem. You can then discuss the diary entries with your GP (or other health professional), and together decide on appropriate ways to try to overcome the sleep problems.

For more information, see sleep and autism on the NAS website.

Eating

Some individuals with autism can have problems relating to feeding and difficulties surrounding their diet. These dietary problems can cause both over- and undereating.

Causes of undereating can include sensory differences, interrupted routine and the social aspects of eating. Reasons for overeating can include food becoming an obsession and low self-esteem that can result in comfort eating.

As with sleep, it can be helpful to keep a food diary. It may help to reveal a pattern and show possible reasons for over- or undereating. For more information, see Dietary management on the NAS website.

Coping with the education system

Many parents of children with autism have problems finding the right school. Some children have statements of special education needs before they start school, others go through the statementing process (statutory assessment) once they're in school and some do not have or need a statement at all. For more information about special educational needs see Carers Direct: special educational needs.

If your child is of preschool age and undergoing statutory assessment, your local authority will provide you with a list of suitable schools close to you. You can ask for a more comprehensive list if you feel you don’t have enough information.

For more details about choosing a school, getting extra help in school, statements of special educational needs and bullying, see the NAS's guide to education.

Page last reviewed: 25/02/2012

Next review due: 25/02/2014

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