A-Team: Family Branch

Your family should be the biggest support you have in raising an autistic child. Not all families are, some families refuse to understand the diagnosis, the methods and therapies, and there isn’t much you can do when dealing with a refuser but limit the amount of stress they are allowed to put on your shoulders, even if that means limiting their access to your child.

If you have family members who are in denial, who are struggling to understand your child’s diagnosis, take them to a support group, take them out to lunch and explain it in detail, not just the diagnosis, but the specific issues your child faces and how everything you are doing with and for your child is going to address those issues. Stress the importance of working together towards the ultimate goals you have for your child. Be understanding, but say what needs said. Explain why your child needs the things they do, why they must be guided a certain way.

Everyone needs to be as involved with the child’s progress as possible. If you have family members who are charged with the day to day care, or even just occasional care, of the child, they need to know the rules, the methods, the goals. The best way to accomplish this is to keep clear and open lines of communication. Try not to let your emotions get the best of you, though that can be hard sometimes. If you can, take those care givers with your child to therapy, allow them to be part of the process, to see first hand how the trained professionals work with your child. If you can’t take them with you, teach them yourself.

The first thing you should do is make a list of short term goals for your child. Keep them simple, with little steps. Devise several game activities for your family to do with the child to take those little steps toward the goal. Teach your family those games, give them that list of goals. You might be surprised – one of your family members might come up with a really great game or method of teaching.

Sit down and write out a list of rules for the care of your child. Things they are and aren’t allowed to do or give the child. Parts of the child’s routine that are nonnegotiable. If you can, print them out on magnetic paper (available at most office supply stores) so your family can keep these copies on their refrigerators. Discuss these rules with your family and be firm about them. If the individual cannot abide by these rules that are in the best interest of the child and the child’s progress toward those goals you’ve already discussed, they are not being a part of the solution but creating problems. Most family members don’t want to cause regressions or behavioral issues. You should make a list of all the things your child is allergic to, sensitive to, overwhelmed by and print it out (again, on magnetic paper if you can). Ideally, you and these family members can spend time with the child together, so that they can see first hand how to deal with meltdowns, how to keep to that pictorial schedule, how to reward the child for good behavior and how to discipline them for bad behaviors.

When dealing with refusers, try to keep a level head. Approach them with logic and reason. If they ask you what they can do to help, ask them to go with you and your child to therapy. Have them work with the child under the supervision of a professional. Often times, refusers who are unwilling to hear your voice are surprisingly open to the voices of those with an alphabet of letters behind their names. There will always be those who are so deeply in denial, or simply so lazy, that they will continually ignore your wishes or offer excuses for the child’s behavior, or simply refuse to believe there is anything wrong at all. You cannot force them to learn, but you can remove them from the situation. Let them know that if they cannot be a part of the solution, you will not allow them to be part of the problem. It might seem harsh to restrict a grandparent or other relative’s access to your child, but ask yourself which is worse, a grandparent who may only visit under supervision or a grandparent who continually sets the child’s progress back?

It is important to keep everyone on the same page. If the rules or procedures change, update the information your family has. If you are met with nothing but resistance, try counseling, mediation, and, if you must, remove them from the situation. The child’s needs must always come first.

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