How to treat an autistic child? 6 key ideas
Jul 15, 2021
Do you have a boy or a girl diagnosed with autism in the classroom, and you don't really know how to act with him / her? Are you a therapist and need some guidance in this field? Do you have a friend or relative with autism (or your own child) and would you like to know how to treat him / her to improve her relationship with him / her and that you both feel comfortable?
In this article we will see a series of simple guidelines aimed at answering the question of how to treat an autistic childin order to enhance your strengths, improve your well-being, and learn both in the process.
- Related article: "Autism Spectrum Disorders: 10 symptoms and diagnosis"
What characterizes children with autism?
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) encompass, as the name itself indicates, different disorders within the same spectrum. They have been classically considered two large groups of autists: those with high functioning (Asperger's Syndrome) and those with more impaired functioning (the autistic "classics"). This second group is the one that, in addition to ASD, has a diagnosed associated intellectual disability.
In this article we will focus on the second group, and we will mention some guidelines on how to treat an autistic child.
Before addressing how to treat an autistic child, in order to improve their quality of life and interactions, We will see the central characteristics / symptoms of this diagnosis, which may manifest many of these kids. For it we are based on the diagnostic criteria of the DSM-5 (Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders).
We believe it is necessary to know their characteristics and their way of being (although then each child is a world, logically, and has its own characteristics), in order to understand why we have to act in one way and not another with them.
1. Difficulties in interactions and social communication
The first characteristic of children with ASD is a marked difficulty (or deficit) when it comes to interacting with others in a "normative" way. This translates into a deficit in emotional reciprocity (for example through anomalous social approaches, problems sharing interests and emotions, etc.
2. Repetitive and restricted patterns
The second symptom is the existence of one or more repetitive and restricted patterns, which have to do with: behaviors, interests, activities, actions... How does this manifest itself? For example through stereotypes, echolalia, hitting objects, rituals...
3. Appearance at an early age of development
In TEAs, the above symptoms usually appear at a very early developmental moment (from a few years of life, in more serious cases).
4. Symptoms cause interference
Finally, the last criterion to be able to diagnose a case of autism is that the symptoms interfere in their daily life, in any of its spheres: school, social, emotional ...
How to treat an autistic child and why?
Regarding the question of how to treat an autistic child, the first thing we will say is something quite obvious, but worth noting: simply, We will treat them like other boys and girls fundamentally, with normality, with respect and empathy.
That is, we do not have to treat them differently, but it is true that we can act in a certain way to make things easier (or improve) for them in many ways; that they do not feel overwhelmed, that they feel understood, valued, etc. We can also act in a certain way so that they feel more comfortable, and so that they can strengthen all their potentialities.
In other words, it is about contributing a “plus” to your well-being, your quality of life and your adaptive capacity, not to treat them in a discriminatory way (neither in the positive sense nor in the negative). What's more, It is worth mentioning that many of these children can lead a practically normal life (or normative), especially those who do not have an added intellectual disability.
Thus, the guidelines that we propose on how to treat an autistic child are the following.
1. Act from empathy
The first guideline that is quite obvious and general. Thus, it is a general guideline for all children, and even adults. It is simply common sense to treat people with empathy.
So the first guideline comes from common sense; How are we going to treat them if not? From empathy, trying to understand how they feel at all times to adapt our behavior to each situation.
- You may be interested: "Empathy, much more than putting yourself in someone else's shoes"
2. Anticipate situations or events
The second, more specific guideline consists of the following: anticipate the events of the day, the changes that may have arisen…
This will help reduce the anxiety levels that autistic children often have, as a result of "not knowing what will happen." (since one of their characteristics is that they are usually quite rigid, and they need planning as well, as we will see in the next point).
3. Provide routines
Due to the characteristics of children with ASD, routines are the key so that they do not feel anxiety about what will happen (or what will not happen), and to put order in his world and in his mind (as we will also see later).
Thus, you can put into practice this guideline on how to treat an autistic child by developing schedules and routines, for example through a ceiling or cardboard (and have it hanging in her room or in her classroom).
4. Use alternative communication systems (if necessary)
Recall that up to 75% of children diagnosed with autism (not high-functioning autism, the Asperger's syndrome), has also diagnosed an intellectual disability, which can be mild, moderate or serious.
In this sense, there is a group of children who also do not have language (they do not speak), but they do have communication. That is why in these cases we must use alternative communication systems, such as pictograms, portable communicators, virtual keyboards... Everything will depend on the type of child and its characteristics.
- You may be interested: "The 6 stages of childhood (physical and mental development)"
5. Structure your activities
Whether you work with him / her (as a therapist, psychologist, educator ...) or if you are her father or mother, or a family member, it can be very useful to structure the activities you do a lot together.
They, in addition to needing routine and anticipation, they need guidelines, concrete guidelines, schedules, structure, planning... That helps them to structure their minds somewhat chaotic at times, and their world as well.
6. It greatly reinforces their positive behavior
It is important too reinforce appropriate behaviors so that they increase in intensity, duration and frequency.
For this, behavior programs (or behavior therapy, such as the ABA method, Applied Behavior Analysis) are very effective. These also include using behavioral strategies to reduce their inappropriate behaviors (eg extinction, response cost…).
- Abril, D., Delgado, C. and Vigara, A. (2010). Augmentative and Alternative Communication. Reference guide. CEAPAT.
- American Psychiatric Association -APA- (2014). DSM-5. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Madrid: Panamericana.
- Belloch, A., Sandín, B. and Ramos, F. (2010). Manual of Psychopathology. Volume I and II. Madrid: McGraw-Hill.
- Mulas, F., Ros-Cervera, G., Millá, M.G. Etchepareborda, M., Abda, L. and Téllez, M. (2010). Models of intervention in children with autism. Rev Neurol, 50 (Suppl 3): S77-S84.