Do you have a child with autism or know someone with this diagnosis? Often, the actions of people with autism are misinterpreted, and it can be challenging to connect and to create a loving bond, especially if he is non-verbal.
These five steps can help guide you in hopes of creating a successful relationship with your loved one with autism.
1. Understand that you should not feel bad if your child with autism is exhibiting challenging behaviors, such as not talking or not showing affection. Sometimes this is part of the disorder, and if you take this personally, you could widen the gap between you and your child.
2. Observe your child. See what he does and then join him. Start by playing next to him, doing the same thing. Don't try to change what he is doing or make him do what you are doing. Ease into it. If you come on too strong, you will push him away. But it's OK to take some initiative, modeling play and behavior. This will help your child's ability to interact increase.
3. Recognize that sensory issues are real. The five senses are sometimes amplified for people with autism. This can make every day things painful at times. If your child is having a meltdown because of a sensory experience, he may not be over-reacting. Help him work through this and learn how to communicate about it. Don't respond impatiently or harshly. This also means that some sensory sensations feel amazing to a person with autism. If you know your child likes his back scratched or his arm squeezed offer to do this for him.
4. Routines and fixations are often powerful for people with autism. They can provide comfort and relaxation. They also can cause a person with autism to isolate himself. It's important to choose your battles when interrupting a routine or fixation. Some routines are important to interrupt and some are important to allow. For example, the more consistent you are, the more comfortable your child will be with you. Making yourself predictable will reduce your child's anxiety around you.
5. If your child is obsessed with a certain topic, let him talk to you about it. Show interest in his passion. People with autism sometimes get obsessed with certain topics and learn more about them than the average person. Your child is more likely to feel connected to you if you show genuine interest.
Know that people with autism are capable of loving deeply and being in lasting relationships, but sometimes certain symptoms can get in the way of that.
If you love a person with autism, never stop pursuing him. People with autism have so much to offer the world.■
Katie Saint is a licensed professional counselor and a board certified behavior analyst in Wisconsin.