Autism is a complex disorder with characteristics in four fundamental areas: sensory processing challenges, speech and language delays and impairments, difficulties with social interaction skills, and self-esteem issues. The more parents understand the various challenges autism presents, the better prepared they will be to provide appropriate help to their child. Here, what you should know if you're raising an autistic child, from Jeffrey Martinez, MD, of Lennox Hill Hospital in New York City, and David B. Samadi, MD, a Fox News medical contributor:
1. Although many autistic children have similar traits, autism is a spectrum disorder and no two autistic children are alike in how they are affected.
2. Autism is a genetic disorder. If a couple has an autistic child, there is a 5 to 10 percent chance that other children they have will also have some sort of autistic disorder. With identical twins, the likelihood jumps to 60 percent.
3. Don't define your child. Give her time to see what he or she is capable of.
4. Negative behavior often happens when a child cannot express himself in words, is overwhelmed by sensory systems, or simply doesn't understand what is expected of him. Look beyond the behavior for the source of resistance; over time, a pattern may emerge.
5. Children with autism often need more practice to master tasks; repetition helps them.
6. Learn your child's non-verbal communication signals. Autistic kids struggle to express their feelings in words, so be alert to body language, withdrawal, agitation, and other signs that something is wrong.
7. Focus on your child's strengths, and make those positive traits the focus. Like anyone else, autistic children cannot learn in an atmosphere where they are made to feel inferior. Be cautious about trying new things that could lead to criticism, even if it's constructive.
8. Social interaction can be difficult, so it's important to teach your child how to play with others. Most children with autism don't understand facial expressions, body language, or even the emotions of others.
9. Transitions are tricky. Autistic children are frequently slower going from one activity to the next because of the motor movement involved. Give them some visual clues…a clock face or a timer, or a gentle verbal warning a few minutes before an activity change,
10. Sensory overload is very real. Things you may not even notice: ordinary sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches can be painful to an autistic child. Their behavior may seem withdrawn, frightened, or angry when they are simply trying to defend themselves from an environment that feels hostile.