Monday, April 9, 2018

Parenting Pointers: Things I Learned from Raising a Child with Autism

For the millions of people living with autism, daily routines like brushing your teeth can be a challenge. But Holly Robinson Peete and Colgate are helping to change that.

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, Colgate partnered with actress and autism activist Holly Robinson Peete, whose son RJ was diagnosed at a young age. She has since been a passionate voice for spreading education and awareness to families around the world. Holly is a big fan of a new step-by-step visual app called MagnusCards, a free app that provides instructions for life skills like brushing teeth, flossing, rinsing and visiting the dental office. Together, Holly and Colgate are empowering individuals with autism and their caregivers. 

Holly's tips for raising kids with autism:

Discuss Plans Ahead of Time 
Every day can be filled with new experiences, which can sometimes be overwhelming for our kids. A daily schedule of activities shared in advance can help him or her understand what the day will look like. Of course, plans – and weather – can always change, so it’s important to provide a backup plan too. For example, I may say, “We’re going to the pool today at noon, but if it rains, we’ll go to the movies instead.” 

Maintain a Schedule 
Routines are important to all children, but especially for those living with autism. On weekends or in those lazy summer days, it can feel tempting to be a little more lenient, but maintaining the basic structure your child’s typical school day helps. When RJ was growing up, I’d encourage him to wake up at the same time and keep his regular morning routine. Easy step-by-step guides, like the oral care instructions created by Colgate on the MagnusCards app, make it easier to master important everyday skills from brushing teeth to making the bed. 

Do Activities Together 
A family is a unit and needs to work together to thrive. That’s why I love doing activities that are not just exciting for RJ, but benefit the entire family. Our favorite family activity is to go to the beach and literally just sit on the beach – it relaxes everybody. A simple picnic on the beach is a good day for the Peetes! We’ve been doing this since RJ was a little boy. The sounds of the ocean and watching the waves relax him and the whole family. We also taught him how to swim a very early age so that we wouldn’t stress so much around water. 

Focus on the Positive 
Children with autism respond well to praise for good behavior. (Don’t we all?!). When RJ was growing up, I would always be sure to applaud him when he learned a new skill or did something well. The key is to be specific about what exactly was great about their behavior and to provide a little reward. Anytime RJ would make eye contact with us was a great moment. Many parents take eye contact for granted, but it is something that can be difficult for children with autism to do. It’s very hard to describe what it’s like when your child is unable to look at you. You don’t make the connection you need to make, which can be painful and frustrating for not just for the parent, but the child as well. Whenever RJ would make extended eye contact, we would make sure he got his favorite pizza or the chance to jump longer on his trampoline. These are small wins but huge for an autism family!

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