Autism

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Help for day-to-day life

Do

  • use your child's name so they know you're speaking to them

  • keep language simple and clear

  • speak slowly and clearly

  • use simple gestures, eye contact and pictures or symbols to support what you're saying

  • allow extra time for your child to understand what you have said

  • ask your autism assessment team if you can get help from a speech and language therapist (SLT)

  • try ways to help them communicate, such as Signalong, Makaton or PECS

  • read tips from the National Autistic Society on communicating with your child

Don't

  • try not to ask your child lots of questions

  • try not to have a conversation in a noisy or crowded place

  • try not to say things that could have more than 1 meaning, such as "pull your socks up" or "break a leg"

Anxiety affects a lot of autistic children and adults. It can be caused by not being able to make sense of things going on around them, and feeling misunderstood or unaccepted by people who are not autistic.

Try to find out why your child's feeling anxious.

It might be because of:

  • a change in routine – it might help to prepare your child for any change, such as a change of class at school
  • difficulty identifying, understanding or managing their feelings
  • a noisy or brightly coloured place – it might help to take your child to a calmer place, such as another room

If your child is often anxious, ask your GP about therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which may help.

Search The National Autistic Society's directory for counsellors experienced in helping people with autism and read more about managing anxiety.

Helping with your child's behaviour

Some autistic children have behaviours such as:

  • stimming – a kind of repetitive behaviour (such as flapping their hands or flicking their fingers)
  • meltdowns – a complete loss of control caused by being totally overwhelmed

If your child has these behaviours, read our advice about how to help your child's behaviour.

Eating difficulties

Many children are "fussy eaters".

Autistic children may:

  • only want to eat foods of a certain colour or texture
  • not eat enough or eat too much
  • eat things which are not food (called pica)
  • have problems with coughing or choking while eating
  • be constipated, so they feel full even when they have not eaten much food

It may help to keep a food diary, including what, where and when your child eats. This can help you notice any common issues your child has.

Speak to a GP or your autism team about any problems your child's having with eating.

The National Autistic Society has more about how to help with eating problems

Problems sleeping

Many autistic children find it hard to get to sleep, or wake up several times during the night.

This may be because of:

  • anxiety
  • sensitivity to the light from smartphones or tablets
  • problems with the sleep hormone melatonin
  • issues such as hyperactivity or a health condition that affects sleep

You can help your child by:

  • keeping a sleep diary of how your child sleeps to help you notice any common issues
  • following the same bedtime routine
  • making sure their bedroom is dark and quiet
  • letting them wear ear plugs if it helps
  • talking to a GP about how to manage health conditions that make sleep difficult, such as a food sensitivity or breathing problem

If these tips do not help, talk to your autism team about creating a sleep plan to help your child's sleep behaviour.

If your child's sleep does not get better, a GP might refer you to a paediatrician or child psychiatrist with experience of autism who can prescribe a medicine called melatonin to help your child sleep.

Staying healthy

It's important that your child has regular check-ups with the:

  • dentist
  • optician
  • doctors treating any other conditions your child has

Children over 14 who also have a learning disability are entitled to an annual health check.

Do not be afraid to let staff know what they can do to make it easier to go for check-ups.

Find out more ways to stay healthy from the National Autistic Society

Friendships and socialising

Some autistic children find it hard to make friends.

There are some things you can do to help:

Do

Don't

  • do not put pressure on your child – learning social skills takes time

  • do not force your child into social situations if they're OK being on their own

Help with behaviour

Some autistic children may behave in ways that put a lot of strain on you and your family.

Some common autistic behaviours are:

  • stimming (short for 'self-stimulating behaviour'), a kind of repetitive behaviour
  • meltdowns, a complete loss of control over behaviour

You may hear health professionals call some behaviours "challenging".

Some autistic children can also be physically or verbally aggressive. Their behaviour can be harmful to themselves or other people.

But remember, all autistic children are different and not every day will be challenging or stressful.

Ambitious about Autism has more information about behaviours that challenge

Why these behaviours happen

Many autistic children use a set of behaviours to help them manage their emotions and make sense of their environment. Sometimes they're done for enjoyment.

Some things that can be linked to these behaviours include:

  • being over- or under-sensitive to things like bright lights, noises, touch or pain
  • anxiety, especially when routines suddenly change
  • not being able to make sense of what's going on around them
  • being unwell or in pain

These behaviours are not your or your child's fault.

Stimming

Stimming is a kind of repetitive behaviour.

Common stimming behaviours include:

  • rocking, jumping, spinning, head-banging
  • hand-flapping, finger-flicking, flicking rubber bands
  • repeating words, phrases or sounds
  • staring at lights or spinning objects

Stimming is usually harmless. It may look odd to others, but you should not try to stop it if it's not causing any harm to you or your child.

Ambitious about Autism has more on repetitive behaviours and stimming

Meltdowns

Meltdowns are a complete loss of control caused by being totally overwhelmed.

If your child has a meltdown, the most important thing is to try to stay calm and keep them safe.

If you're worried your child might hurt themselves or others, try to hold them to keep them safe.

It's not always possible to prevent meltdowns, but there are some things you can do that may help at an early stage.

These include:

  • letting your child wear headphones to listen to calming music
  • turning down or removing bright lights
  • distraction techniques, such as fiddle toys
  • planning ahead for any change in routine, such as a different route to school

It may help to keep a diary for a few weeks to see if you can spot any meltdown triggers that you can do something about.

The National Autistic Society has more on meltdowns

Speak to the autism care team or a GP if your child is:

  • stimming all the time or having lots of meltdowns
  • being bullied at school because of their behaviour
  • aggressive, harming themselves or harming other people

If you're struggling to cope, your child may be referred for professional support.

Where to get autism support

Find out more:

Help for families

Having an autistic child can put a lot of strain on you and your family.

You might need to spend a lot of time helping your child get the support they need. This can be very stressful and exhausting.

It may be hard to make time for the rest of your family and can affect your relationships with each other.

If you feel you need help, you can get support from lots of places.

Things that can help you and your family

Do

Don't

  • do not feel guilty for taking time for yourself when you can – even just going for a walk on your own can help give you a break

It's your choice when you want to tell your child about their autism.

Some parents do it straight away, while others wait until their child's a bit older. There's no right or wrong time.

When you tell your child, it may help to:

  • do it when they're feeling calm or relaxed
  • talk to them in a place where they feel comfortable, with no distractions
  • explain they do not have an illness, but they might need extra support to help them with some things
  • explain they might find some things harder than other people, and some things easier
  • bring them to a support group to meet other autistic children

The National Autistic Society has a guide for parents and carers with advice on how to tell your child about their diagnosis

Supporting your other children

Some children can find it hard if their brother or sister is autistic.

If you have other children, there are things you can do to help them.

Do

  • make time for them whenever you can – try to do some activities with just them

  • talk to them about what's going on and ask if they have any questions or worries

  • let them have time on their own or with their friends – for example, sleepovers at friends' houses

  • check the advice from Sibs, a charity for siblings of disabled children

Don't

  • do not be afraid to involve them in things like meetings with health professionals – it can help them understand what's going on

Find out more:

School

One of the main decisions you'll have to make is the type of school you want your child to go to.

You'll have to decide if you think your child should go to a:

  • mainstream school – a regular school where your child may get support from a special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) if they need it
  • special school – a school for children with special educational needs
  • residential school – where children stay overnight
  • independent school – also called a section 41 school, which is not funded by the local council, so you might have to pay fees yourself

This can be a hard decision to make and there might not be lots of choice where you live.

Read more advice from:

The National Autistic Society's education rights helpline can give advice about your child's rights, education law and how to resolve problems at school. Use the online form or call 0808 800 4102.

If your child can go to a mainstream school or nursery, you can help them get support if you think they need it.

1. Speak to staff at the nursery or school

Speaking to staff at their nursery or school is the best place to start.

You could speak to:

  • your child's teacher
  • the school's SENCO

Talk to them about your child's needs. For example, if they need help with communication, learning or social skills.

2. Ask what support your child can get

Ask the teacher or SENCO what support they can provide.

This may be things like:

  • extra teaching support for your child
  • different ways of teaching that are better for your child
  • separate lessons to help your child improve their skills

This may be enough for some autistic children. Other children may need extra support.

3. Get extra support if your child needs it

If your child needs extra support, they'll need an education, health and care (EHC) plan.

This is a document from your local council. It says what education and health needs your child has and what support they should get.

An EHC plan can either help:

  • the school apply for extra money so they can support your child
  • you apply for a place at a school that's better for your child

Your child does not need to have been diagnosed with autism to get extra support.

Find out more about EHC plans:

  1. Ask your local council for an EHC assessment of your child's special education needs and disabilities (SEND). An EHC assessment can also be requested by your child's school, a health visitor, doctor, or relative.
  2. Have an assessment. The council will speak to you, the school and health professionals to work out what support your child needs.
  3. Read the draft plan. You can comment on the plan and add details, like the type of school you want your child to go to.
  4. Agree on the final plan.

The whole process can take a few months. Ask the school what support they can offer while it's happening.

Find your local council on GOV.UK

The council may decide your child does not need an EHC assessment or plan. If this happens, it should tell you why.

If you do not agree with its decision, you have the right to appeal.

You'll be told how to do this when you hear from the council.

To get a place at a special school, your child will usually need an EHC plan.

As part of an EHC plan, you have the right to tell your local council what type of school you'd like your child to go to, or name a particular school you prefer.

The council can only refuse this if there's a clear reason why the school is unsuitable.

Find out more about choosing a school with an EHC plan on the Independent Provider of Special Education Advice (IPSEA) website.

Getting support for your child can be a long and complicated process.

You can get advice about it from:

It may also help to speak to other parents of autistic children.

Find out where you can get autism support

Going to school can be an anxious time for any child. Some autistic children might find it very hard.

You can get advice about it from:

Changing from child to adult care

Where possible, your child will be asked to be more involved in the decisions about their care from the age of 16.

When your child turns 18:

  • the NHS will continue to care for their health, but they may see a different doctor or a care team for adults
  • they may have to pay for some of the care they used to get for free from the council
  • any support they need to help with their education will need to be provided by their college or university, if they go to one

If your child has an education, health and care plan (EHCP), this will usually continue until they're 25, unless they:

  • do not need support anymore
  • go to university
  • get a job

It's a good idea to start thinking about your child's future when they're around 14 or 15.

You could:

  • speak to any doctors or care teams your child has about what happens when they turn 18
  • apply for a needs assessment from your council – this may help your child get some free care and support when they're an adult
  • apply for a carer's assessment if you care for your child – you may be able to get support and financial benefits
  • ask colleges or universities what support they can give your child, if they're planning to go to one

If you find it hard to get support from your council

If your council decides your child does not need the same support when they turn 18, you can complain if you disagree.

Check your local council's website for information about making a complaint.

The National Autistic Society has a complaint letter template that might help.

You might also want to use an advocate (someone who helps speak up for you).

An advocate can:

  • help you understand the care process and challenge decisions you disagree with
  • go to meetings and write letters with you

Find out more:

Fake and harmful treatments

Important

This is not a list of every fake autism treatment.

Always speak to a GP for advice if there's something you're not sure about. Some fake treatments can be very dangerous.

Sometimes a doctor may suggest medicines or special diets for other conditions that affect autistic people.

But there are no "treatments" or "cures" for autism itself.

These things do not work and some can be harmful:

  • special diets – such as gluten-free, casein-free or ketogenic diets
  • vitamins, minerals and diet supplements
  • bleaching – also called chlorine dioxide (CD) or Mineral Miracle Solution (MMS)
  • GcMAF – an injection made from blood cells
  • medicines – including medicines to help with memory, change hormone levels or remove metal from the body (chelation)
  • neurofeedback – where brain activity is checked (usually by placing sticky pads on your head) and you're taught how to change it
  • hyperbaric oxygen therapy – treatment with oxygen in a pressurised chamber

How to spot fake treatments

There are some warning signs that may suggest a treatment is fake:

  • it claims to "cure" or help people "recover from" autism
  • it claims to work in most people and have quick results
  • personal "stories" are used to claim it works, rather than medical evidence
  • words like "miracle", "faith" and "trust" are used
  • it can be done by anyone without any training or qualifications
  • it costs a lot of money

How to report fake treatments

You can help stop people selling dangerous treatments by reporting anything you think might be fake.

For a product bought in England, Scotland or Wales, call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06.

For a medicine you think might be fake, visit www.fakemeds.campaign.gov.uk.

For an advert for a fake treatment in the media, on a website or on social media, contact the Advertising Standards Authority.

Find out more:

Advice about medicines

If you or your child take medicines, these tips may help.

Do

  • ask if there are other treatments that might help – medicine might not always be the only option

  • ask about the possible side effects

  • tell your doctor if you think the medicine is not working or is causing side effects – some medicines can work differently in autistic people

  • ask for regular medicine reviews – a review is a check-up to see if the medicine you're taking is still right for you or your child and is not causing any problems

  • read advice about problems swallowing pills if this is a problem for you or your child

Don't

  • do not stop taking any medicines without speaking to a doctor first – some medicines can cause serious side effects if you stop taking them suddenly

Do

  • ask for an appointment at the start or end of the day – the waiting room may be less busy and you may have to wait for less time

  • ask for a double appointment so you're not rushed

  • arrange a visit before your appointment – knowing what to expect when you go for your appointment may help you or your child feel less anxious

  • bring someone else with you on the day if it might help

  • ask at reception if there's a quiet place you can wait – if not, ask if you can wait outside or in the car and if someone can call or get you when they're ready

Don't

  • do not worry about letting staff know how they can make things easier – you have the right to ask for simple changes to be made that may help

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