Upbringing of a child with an autism spectrum disorder has the same goal as upbringing of an ordinary child – that is preparation on an individual for an independent life. However, the autistic children are specific and unique, so common upbringing procedures do not usually apply to them. Due to the variety of the autism symptoms it is also very complicated to compile a general guideline for the right upbringing of a child with this diagnosis.
Upbringing of an autistic child is based on UNDERSTANDING, PATIENCE and EMPATHY.
Methodological recommendations for all types of the autism spectrum disorders:
The child’s development must be necessarily adapted to their level of social adaptation, communication and cognitive abilities.
ADAPTATION OF THE ENVIRONMENT
Creation of safe environment, where the child can get oriented as easily as possible. Delimitation of particular zones, designated for specific activities.
EXACT TIME SCHEDULE
Creation of an exact daily regime based on the child’s individual needs and abilities, which the child will be able to understand and follow (e.g. in form of drawings, etc.)
INDIVIDUAL MOTIVATION SYSTEM
Specialities and specifics of the child’s psychical state will predetermine the structure of the child’s individual motivation plan.
UNDERSTANDABLE COMMUNICATION SYSTEM
All communication towards the child must be adapted to their mental age, level of understanding, language and speech abilities.
LEARNING BY REALITY
Since the children often have symbolic thinking distorted, it is better to develop their abilities using real things and real situations.
How and what to teach an autistic child
The difference of the children with the autism spectrum disorder does not mean that their upbringing and development should be resigned for. The already mentioned raising to independence should be the first goal. To develop the intellectual and physical abilities as much as possible should be the equal goal, which, however, significantly depends of the type of the autism spectrum disorder and the intensity of the disability. Of course both these goals correlate and they cannot stay separately. Communication skills development is related to each next step and vice versa, raising to independence implicates the increase in social skills.
There is a principle which applies to all areas of the development of an autistic child, that they should be coordinated by an expert and the family, experts and institutions (a kindergarten, a school…) should cooperate in them.
Upbringing to independence:
- Habits of cleanliness
- Independent eating
- Independent getting dressed
- Personal hygiene
- Simple chores
Development of intellectual and physical abilities
- Communication skills
- Social skills
- Movement skills
In terms of communication understanding and use pre-school children with autism form a really heterogeneous group, which does not have many common denominators.
Their problems are really different, however, the fact is that most of autistic children are delayed in communication to ordinary ones.
Frequent typical features of communication of children with autism
- most of pre-school children do not speak
- understanding of the speech is delayed after speaking
- they understand everything heard literally
- they understand particular information better than the general ones
Procedure in work with an autistic child
1. THE ANALYSIS OF THE WAY AND LEVEL OF COMMUNICATION
Every child has a different level and way of communication. The range may be wide – from complete incommunicativeness up to a quite well communicating child. In addition to the verbal expression the attention should be paid also to gestures, facial expression and general behaviour of the child.
2. SELECTION OF SUITABLE COMMUNICATION TOOLS
In the first step it is important to choose the one, which is the most natural for them. In the subsequent steps we will try to get to the use of the whole range of others through the primary tool – objects, pictures, signs, music and speech.
3. CONTINUOUS EXTENDING OF VOCABULARY
We extend the vocabulary with patience, the same way as in ordinary children. It is useful if we try to measure it after some time to be able to compare the progress the child has made. Remember the literal understanding and take the fact that the understanding and use of words often depends on the context into consideration.
This area is usually affected by the biggest problems in children with autism. The primary goal is to build social behaviour, which will allow the child to integrate in a team as much as possible. E.g. autistic children cannot often play. Autism prevents them from learning the social skills spontaneously – they must be taught that. This process should take place in specialized kindergartens with experts´ supervision.
Basic social abilities:
- getting to know and acceptance of the presence of other people
- acceptance of help of a pedagogue
- learning basic rules and customs of the life of a group
- learning basic rules of behaviour
- development of the ability to copy
Perception of themselves:
- learning personal data
- teaching their own external features
- distinguishing themselves from other people (e.g. recognizing themselves in a mirror)
- teaching basic sharing experiences
- telling usual activities often done by the child
Establishing contacts, maintaining them:
- development of understanding of meta-communication (gestures, facial expressions) and its use
- recognition of known people, learning their names
- learning simple social routines (e.g. greeting, asking for help)
- teaching the rules of information exchange, initiation, keeping and closing a communication interaction
- conforming to the rules of behaviour in simple social situations at kindergarten
- basic cooperation with an adult and a child
The characteristics connected with movement are often used to describe behaviour of a child with autism (stereotyped, repetitive movements, such as rocking, running in and out aimlessly, jumping, throwing, hyperactivity etc.). However, such types of movements are not the problems of development. They are connected with social and communication damage, typical for autism. The development of movement skills helps children to better orientation in space and it has a big impact on the realization of their own body. Of course there are also the children with autism, whose movement development corresponds to their age or who are even more skilful at certain movements than their peers (e.g. crawling).
Development of movement skills:
- “catching up” with the delayed movement functions
- improvement of immature sensorimotor information processing
- coordination ability training
Integration of autism into the society
The parents of a child with autism follow the same goal in their upbringing and education as the parents of an ordinary child. They want their child to become an independent individual with the ability of self-actualization as much as possible. The integration of an autistic person into the society is the main goal of the association SPOSA.
Parents of autistic children usually ask:
- Will my child be independent?
- Will they make friends?
- Will they be able to do what they like doing?
- Will they be happy?
Nobody can give you an answer to these questions in advance. However, the stories of successful autistic people from all over the world have one common feature – their relatives did not give it up and they provided them with good environment for development and education. We can surely say only one thing – yes, autistic people can achieve a high rate of independence, social life and happiness, if the family background and society allows it to them.
We need to achieve several goals to succeed in that:
which will educate autistic children as much as possible
COORDINATED APPROACH OF THE GOVERNMENT
which will enable as much integration into the society as possible
TO EMPLOY AUTISTIC PEOPLE
capable of working
which will enable independent assisted living of autistic people following the examples from abroad
If we achieve the above mentioned goals, the probability of successful integration of the autistic people into the society will increase significantly.