My experiences caring for children with autism spectrum disorder
Who I am?
First, I want to tell you that I am not an expert in child care and diagnosing behavioral or developmental problems among children. These are just my opinions and experiences as a child care provider and registered nurse at our center.
Last year, my friend and I, a special education teacher, decided to establish a child care center without any knowledge or realistic expectations of what lies ahead. Little did we know that caring for young children will take us on a roller coaster of experiences that will help us grow as early childhood educators and caregivers.
We work closely with developmental pediatricians, health professionals (when needed), occupational and speech therapists. In the future, we would also like to work with other child and day care centers, behaviorists, and other professionals in our locality to properly profile all children ages 4 and under and collect enough data so that researchers, policymakers and students can use for study.
the modern child
At our center, we serve regular children and those with special needs. More specifically, those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and people with hearing impairments. In this article, we will mainly talk about ASD and how we treat our children on a daily basis.
It’s no secret that today’s young children are much better adapted to technology than we were used to. And this, to some extent, is a positive achievement for many of us who used to “dream” about technology, watching it on bulky televisions or reading about it in encyclopedias and almanacs.
However, on the other side of the coin, the same technology is making many of our children less sociable and therefore many have developed behavioral and developmental problems. In our child care center, as of August, 3 out of 10 of our children are still not speaking at age 3, and the same proportion of children show features autism spectrum disorder or some other disorder (no eye contact, little or no talking, wrapping things and toys, tiptoeing, emotional meltdowns, decreased social skills, solitary play, aggressive behavior, repetitive conversations, games and actions, hitting , etc).
Children with special needs do better when they are integrated with children who do not have behavioral or developmental problems. Play and companions are very important in helping them open up more and eventually learn to communicate their wants and needs.
Diagnosis and After
By noticing the characteristics of ASD in a child, we invite both parents to show you how we assess the child’s basic skill sets and the signs or characteristics we notice in your child. At the end of the session, we asked them if they would be interested in visiting a development pedia in the city.
The doctor would usually suggest one or a combination of the following:
- hearing test (to rule out impairment),
- ongoing child care (to improve socialization),
- speech therapy (to improve or correct speech),
- occupational therapy (to improve dexterity, control, and mobility), and
- some other specific medical and psychiatric tests,
- tracking on a specific date
It’s fairly easy to spot children who are “at risk.” Absent or limited eye contact and speech at a certain age usually mean that something is wrong and is usually the first thing we notice among our children who have ASD.
The hardest part is not identifying these features, but informing parents of the possibility of a developmental problem. Denial and resentment are things many parents go through, but we make sure to be with them every step of the way. If they refused any referral to a developmental doctor, then we don’t hold it against them.
It is important for us to convince these parents and guardians to ensure that high-risk children see professionals who can correctly diagnose them immediately, but it is also important to consider their feelings and their right to decide for their children. Learning about the diagnosis is essentially the first step in understanding, reaching out, and communicating with a child who has ASD.
Initial diagnoses are not always absolute, even doctors need a lot of time to administer tests and work with other professionals to arrive at a correct diagnosis and suggest the most appropriate management for the high-risk child.
Ways of trying to communicate with children with ASD
1. Look at the child while he is playing or teaching something.
Children with ASD typically play solitary play and may seem uninterested in us, the caregivers, and the other children. Most, if not all, of our “high risk” kids were initially self-absorbed in their own worlds and didn’t really like interacting with their playmates. Confronting the child gives him the opportunity to enter her world and participate in the child’s play.
two. Get his attention when you want to say something to the child.
Facing the child, touch his shoulder and say his name if you want to show him or tell him something. You can even hold his face and look directly at him until he does the same and looks back at you.
3. One command or information at a time.
Teaching children with a narrow focus can be very frustrating at times and it’s best to keep things simple. Build their vocabulary by teaching them one word at a time. Notice what they like to do “right now” and base your lesson on those stimuli.
For example, once, I noticed that one of our children with mild autism was very interested in how he repeatedly rolled his pencil on the table. I knew I got his attention because he was laughing as the pencil moved back and forth and looking at me expectantly. Then I stopped, held up the pencil and said, “ROLL” as he showed her how it was done. I rolled it up again and then held the pencil a bit longer this time to see if it would take my hand and motion for me to do it again. To my delight, he said “ROLLA!”
Four. Stop when the child is not interested.
When the child can’t sit still any longer, stop and give him something else to play with. If nothing catches his attention, sing along to his favorite song! Also, if you notice him talking or doing repetitive actions again (such as running around), distract him with toys or hold his face, call his name, and get his attention to interrupt the repetitions.
It’s also important to note that some children with ASDs may seem uninterested, but actually listen to what you’re saying while they’re busy doing things on their own. Each child will show a different sign of “boredom” and it is important to recognize this and give them enough time to rest.
5. Be generous with praise and be consistent.
Sitting still, following simple instructions, longer eye contact – these are all tasks and milestones. Be sure to praise and congratulate the child for being successful and for trying, even if it can be very difficult at times. On the other hand, correct the bad actions and explain why it should not be repeated. Children learn when you help them follow rules consistently and gently explain the reasons for those rules.
6. Use the different senses.
Sensory integration is important for children with ASD. The sense of touch is a very powerful tool to capture your attention. That is why therapists perform gentle massage and pressure so that children can concentrate better.
Find ways to make activities fun. Music and dancing are popular with those who need to move all the time to focus, and in our experience these two activities never fail to engage them during circle time. They especially love action songs and we would make them listen to these songs for days until we see them having fun.
Sand trays are also great ways to stimulate their senses of touch. We use them to trace shapes, numbers and letters as well.
7. Involve regular children in your games/activities.
Toys and supportive playmates are important for any developing child. In our center, we have a two-way task: to make our clients with ASD feel comfortable and to teach our normal children how to be more patient and understanding with their classmates who have autism. Young children are naturally selfish at first, but with constant reminders and guidance, they learn to value their friends and build good relationships with all of their playmates.
These are just some of the things we do at the center so that our children with ASD open up a little, concentrate better and “communicate” what they want using words. Sometimes it takes a long time for them to learn new words, but they can still communicate in many other ways. Crying, pointing, holding and directing your hand to do something – these are all means of communication!
Importance of early childhood care and education
Providing all children (especially those with special needs) with early care and education is beneficial to early intervention. Developmental and behavioral problems among young children can be easily spotted by trained professionals.
However, not all early care and education providers are created equal. They should be kind, consistent, and compassionate, and the service should reflect what a child would learn in a healthy, loving home.
Parents should never feel faulty for leaving their children in a daycare or child care center. Center staff, class/playmates, and parents can collaboratively provide the best environment for ALL children to optimally grow and learn.