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How can I build a relationship with my child with Autism Spectrum Disorder?

By: Carla Richards (Intern Educational Psychologist)

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has become an increasingly common name in families all over the world, even in South Africa. ASD is a complex disorder affecting the development of the brain in children. This can be characterised by difficulties with social interaction (communication, language, play), as well as repetitive behaviours. However, the awareness about the characteristics, prognosis and treatment of ASD is still largely not spoken about in our country. This can make it very scary when parents find out that their children have been given a diagnosis of ASD.

The impact of ASD on relationships:

There are a number of factors which may make it challenging to focus on the relationship with a child with ASD: medical or health concerns, learning difficulties, school placements, and feeding problems. It may be difficult to think about ways to connect and bond with your child in the face of these more concrete and physical needs. While you may very well be concerned about these difficulties faced by your child, it is important to remember that children with ASD are just as unique as any other child, and your relationship with them as a parent is just as important.

Building a positive relationship with your unique child:

Now, you may be wondering about ways in which you can help to build a positive relationship between you and your child, and if it will be easy. Well, the answer is that it may feel extremely difficult at times! The basic ingredients for a good relationship however are simple: you and your child.

One step to take is to try and play with your child. Yes, play! Play allows for opportunities to bond with your child through physical touch such as holding, squeezing and hugs (which is a sensory activity that many children with ASD respond to). Play also gives the parent and child an opportunity to learn about each other’s likes, dislikes, weaknesses and strengths. Engaging with your child in activities which they enjoy opens up a space where you can learn to enjoy shared activities and delight in each other. It also gives you a chance to build up your child’s confidence, while showing your interest in them.

children playing ball

You can also add other ways to connect with your child more meaningfully into your daily interactions. This can include getting down onto your child’s level and talking to them face to face. This shows love and interest in communicating with your child. Speaking gently and lovingly may also open your child up to wanting to interact with you. Noticing and praising your child’s achievements and successes on a daily basis (no matter how small or basic) is essential. This will help to build a relationship founded on positive interactions, instead of constant negative interactions which are correcting or punitive towards your child.

Having a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a rollercoaster experience for many parents and families. Should you feel that you and your child need any assistance, please do not hesitate to contact Ububele for help or an appropriate referral.

For some more information about ASD and support groups take a look at these local organisations’ websites:

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