How can I support my child without an autism diagnosis?

If you think your child might be autistic, you can still help and support them without a formal diagnosis. You may be at the beginning of the diagnosis process or you may not want to go down the diagnosis route. Either way, these are the key areas to consider when it comes to supporting your child.

autism: a child wearing dungarees plays with coloured blocks

Communication

  • Some autistic people can find it difficult to understand others. They may also struggle to make themselves understood. Some autistic people may not be able to interpret non-verbal communication. This includes body language or facial expressions.
  • When speaking to your child, make sure you use their name at the start. This will help them understand that you are addressing them. Use fewer words and try to avoid phrases that can be taken literally. For example, “it’s raining cats and dogs” could be confusing for an autistic child.
  • Give your child processing time after you’ve spoken to them. Go by the six-second rule. After six seconds, you can repeat the sentence using the same words.
  • You can lessen the risk of overload by using simple words and giving them processing time.
  • You can also use visual supports in your communication. You can find out more on the National Autistic Society website. Or you can speak to our of our parenting coaches on our one-to-one live chat.

Routines

  • Creating routines can add structure and reduce anxiety. This can have a positive impact on your child’s emotional wellbeing and behaviour.
  • Have a timetable of the day’s activities. You could make a visual timetable that is easy to understand.
    When you know a change may be coming up, prepare your child for it in advance. You could try writing a “Social Story” to help them understand the change that is coming. Or, you could draw pictures of what will be changing. For example, if they are about to change classes at school, you could draw a map of their new classroom.
  • Spend time doing calming and fun activities that your child enjoys. Younger children might like having a soothing box.
  • Have quiet time built into routines. This can help your child is able to relax and prepare for what is coming next.

Understanding emotions

  • Emotional understanding may be more of a challenge for a person with autism. There are ways to help your autistic child understand and communicate their emotions.
  • Use metaphors for emotions. This might be emotions as a thermometer: with calm at the bottom, rising to angry or stressed at the top. Or you could try emotions as traffic lights.
  • Talk about what emotions might look like and feel like with your child.
  • If your child can recognise when they start to feel angry, you can work on de-escalation methods. You could have a calm place, or a ‘safe space’ where they can go when they feel frustrated or angry. Or you could have a go-to activity that they find calming. For example, they could have a glitter jar or a colouring book in an easy-to-reach spot for when they need it.
  • Social Stories can help with emotions, too. You could write a story together about how it makes them feel when they can’t find their favourite toy. That way they can understand why they feel how they do. Or you could write a social story about how they can calm down when they are frustrated or stressed.

Triggers

  • One of the best ways to support your child is by recognising their triggers. This can help you identify when they are reaching their limits.
  • Keep a diary of behaviours and make notes of things that are ‘stress factors’. This will help you prepare in advance. If your child finds change difficult, you can talk them through it in advance. Then, have a visual timetable and plan to support them during an upcoming change. If they are triggered by sound, have some ear defenders or headphones ready. If they are sensitive to certain clothes, find items they are comfortable wearing.
  • Make sure you share these strategies with the other people who support your child. That way, you will have a consistent approach.

Where can I go for more support?

  • You can also ask for help from your child’s school or nursery. Your GP or Health Visitor can also make suggestions and signpost you to more support.
  • You could take a parenting course to learn more strategies for children with autism. For example, The Incredible Years offer online courses.
  • You can contact the National Autistic Society helpline even without a diagnosis.
  • You could look into local support groups on the Autism Services Directory.
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