According to the Talk About Curing Autism website, “More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes & cancer combined”. They state that as of April 2012 1 in 88 children have autism compared to the CDC’s December 2009 report of 1 in 110 children. Obviously this is a growing issue that presents new challenges to families. One major concern for working families is child care. Many child care facilities feel they cannot meet the needs of these children and parents are left feeling frustrated and hurt. The National Center for Biotechnology Information reports “Thirty-nine percent of the parents of children with autism spectrum disorder reported that child care problems had greatly affected their employment decisions.”
KidsHealth offers these tips to people caring for children with autism.
- Follow the child’s routine, especially at bedtime or mealtime. Kids with autism prefer structure and can get upset if routines are different from what they’re used to.
- Ask the parents about the child’s favorite toys so you can play with them. Go slowly. One tactic is to sit alongside the child and mimic his play. That might attract his attention and lead him to join you.
- Special toys can help you encourage the child to cooperate. For example, you might say, “If you brush your teeth, you can play with your toy car.”
- Don’t be offended if the child decides to play alone or limits interactions with you. This is part of the disorder.
- Maintain a calm environment. For example, skip a trip to the playground when you know a neighborhood gathering is likely there. Avoid bringing your friends or other people the child may not know into the home.
- Go slowly when it comes to physical contact. Find out from the parents how their child reacts to affection. A quick hug or light tickle could set off a child with autism.
Celeste is an au pair from South Africa for a family in Arizona with a child with autism. She has shared her experiences with us.
Did you have experience with special needs or autistic children before you went to your host family’s house?
I had worked as a high school teacher back in my home country for two years. In a school environment you deal with a lot of different children. I have a special needs friend and family members with dyslexia, but other than that I can’t say that I have experience in working with special needs children. I was aware of the fact that it wasn’t going to be easy, and I also knew that I would gain a lot of experience and personal growth in working with this family.
2. What did the family do to help you get to know their children?
They gave me a neat family handbook with information on each person’s personality.
3. What is challenging about working with children who have autism?
One needs a lot of patience and understanding, and I think the most challenging for me is that a lot of the things they do and the way they act will sometimes seem like its naughty child behavior. But truth is that they act in certain ways we don’t understand because of things they’re struggling to cope with and because the understanding of social cues doesn’t come natural to them.
4. What do you love about working with children with autism?
I love that every day is a challenge. I love how much I learn each and every day, not just about them and autism, but also how much I learn about myself. They helped me look at the world in a different way and appreciate that I have health and friends. I love how they find things fascinating that we overlook every day. It’s fulfilling to see how they make progress every day and how far they have come. They are remarkable kids and I’m very proud and feel very privileged to be a part of their lives.
5. Do you feel you make these children’s lives better? How?
I feel that they make my life better. Being with them every day is fun and they put a smile on my face. They get really excited and enthusiastic about things they’re really interested in. Even just hiking or baking brownies. I guess I make their lives better by showing them love and understanding and by helping to teach them live skills every day.
6. What activities do you like to do with them?
We like to go hiking, play at the park and swimming. S. enjoys painting, singing, dancing, reading and playing dress up. They like to play “Just Dance” on the Wii. A. loves to talk and watch videos about the weather, fireworks and explosions. He also loves to sit outside when there’s a storm coming and watch the clouds and lightning. The boys really enjoy to do science experiments and to make their own crystals. J. likes to swim, watch cartoons, play board games, read and help me bake cookies or brownies. We also enjoy going to the Children’s and Science Museums together.
Au Pair International has au pairs with experience with children with autism. Check out some of their profiles.