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navigating the challenges autism diagnosis

Autism: How to Navigate Challenges in the Early Days

A diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a lifelong condition and can be challenging for parents and caregivers, says Educational and Developmental Psychologist Stephanie Lau of The Holiday Psychologist.

“For some, it brings relief as it explains why their child behaves in a specific way. For others, it is a confronting label and some wonder whether their child will grow out of it,” says Lau.

“It’s important parents and caregivers understand they are not alone and there are services and funding to provide support. With the right support, all children and adults can be assisted to reach their potential.”

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

ASD is a neurodevelopmental disorder where individuals experience difficulties in social communication and relating to the world around them, as well as restricted and repetitive behaviours. The term is a broad classification for impairments in several areas of development.

These include:

  • Social interaction skills
  • Nonverbal communication skills (sometimes with verbal deficits)
  • Restricted or repetitive behaviour, interests and/or activities.

The disorder is a ‘spectrum’, which means characteristics of ASD vary greatly in terms of impairment and severity between individuals, Lau explains.

Important First Steps.

Lau says if you suspect your child has ASD, speak to a professional. “Seeing your GP is the first step and visiting a paediatrician and psychologist is helpful in the process to monitor your child’s development.”

ASD is a diagnosis of hope, says Lau. “It helps us understand an individual or child better and to tailor strategies to best support them in different environments – including, school, home or work.”

School-Age Children and Autism Spectrum Disorder.

It is helpful to understand the function of a child’s behaviour if there are behavioural challenges at school, says Lau. “Supporting a child with ASD will vary in terms of level of need. It’s important to develop an empathic approach to care for a student diagnosed with ASD.”

“This may involve implementing strategies to support their focus and learning, working with clinicians and the student to ensure consistent reinforcement and behavioural expectations are present at school and home.”

Strategies to support a child with ASD are tailored by clinicians to address areas of need for an individual and their family and will depend on level of functioning and areas of difficulty, explains Lau.

“Encouraging the use of ‘feelings’ words to expand a child’s emotional vocabulary is helpful to develop their understanding of their emotions, others’ emotions and subsequently better engage with their peers by solving social problems and understanding relationships.”

The use of routines and structure is also helpful to children with ASD and if changes do occur it’s important to provide adequate warning to avoid unnecessary distress, says Lau.

Lau says understanding that an individual is behaving in a certain way or experiencing challenges due to their neurodevelopment (the development of their brain), allows us to show empathy and compassion.

Learn More About Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Australian Online Courses has a professional development course to help parents and caregivers understand the challenges of Autism Spectrum Disorder and strategies to effectively cope with a diagnosis.

Certificate of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Certificate of Education Support – Autism Spectrum Disorder