The Most Important Skills to Teach Your Child With Autism – Words by Liz Talton

It is an honor to feature on Big Abilities guest blogger, Liz Talton. Liz is the author and creator of Pitter Patter of Baby Feet, a website dedicated to families trying to conceive, fertility, pregnancy, mental health, and anything related to motherhood. Before starting a family, Liz received her master’s degree in forensic psychology and mental health. She is now a full-time blogger, wife, and mother to two boys, ages three and six months. Liz is also a contributing author on the Speech Blubs blog. Speech Blubs is a speech learning app for kids that aims to help children speak better, sooner, and more confidently. Speech Blubs, perfect for children between the ages of 1-8, uses video modeling, face filters, speech recognition, stickers, and loads of FUN activities!

The Most Important Skills to Teach Your Child With Autism

Words by Liz Talton

A life skill is defined as any skill a person needs to solve life challenges and accomplish life goals. But what life skills are important for children with autism compared to neurotypical children? As a mother of a child with autism, the life skills I am teaching my child are much different than a typical preschooler. That’s because skills that come naturally to children do not come naturally to children with autism.

While some days are more challenging than others, a child with autism needs extra help understanding and learning common life skills that come easier to other children. However it doesn’t mean it’s impossible! Children with autism possess astounding visual and sequential memories that help them learn life skills quickly.

Self-Care

Self-care is any activity that teaches someone to care for themselves. Although you as a parent need to remind a preschooler to take a bath, get dressed, brush their teeth, and comb their hair. A preschooler with autism may still need assistance doing these day-to-day self-care activities. Many children with autism struggle with self-care due to issues related to sensory processing disorder.

For a child with sensory issues and autism, combing their hair feels like torture! Scrubbing their body with a loofah in the bath feels like a burning sensation. Because of sensory issues, children with autism may avoid or fight with you about completing daily self-care tasks. But with so many sensory issues related to self-care, how do you teach your child to not only complete a task but make it an enjoyable routine?

Here are some tips to make self-care easier for children with autism:

  • Teeth brushing: A three-sided toothbrush surrounds each tooth on all sides making it easier for children with autism to complete the task.
  • Combing hair: Try a detangling brush with detangling spray for longer hair.  For shorter hair, your child may prefer a comb over a brush.
  • Getting dressed: Practice makes perfect! Take an old t-shirt and cut a 2-inch strip off the bottom of the shirt. This will make a large loop! Now make a game out of getting dressed by having your child pull the large loop over his/her head and putting his/her arms through. This will mimic the action of pulling a shirt on. Your child can also step into the loop and pull the loop up to the waist to mimic putting on pants.

Toileting

While toileting is technically a self-care task, it is an important self-care task children with autism tend to struggle with. Most neurotypical children are fully potty-trained during the day between four and five years old. Many children with autism are not ready to begin potty-training until four to five years old.  

Potty-training a child on the autism spectrum is a real challenge! Thankfully, there are ways to help introduce your child to this essential life skill.

Potty-training tips for children with autism:

  • Use fewer words for instruction- Instead of saying, “It’s time to go to the bathroom and go potty!” say “Potty time!”
  • Try using visual aids- Social stories provide children with autism a visual way of describing a sequence of events or you can use simple picture cards (PECS).
  • Reward successes- Reward any potty-training success immediately after the success so your child will want to continue toileting.
  • Patience- You need lots of patience to teach this life skill to a child with autism. But it can be done!

Self-Regulation

When talking about self-regulation in children with autism, the term refers to emotional self-regulation. Children with autism struggle to manage, adjust, and understand the consequences of their emotions and behavior. For this reason, they may overreact or exhibit excessive anger compared to peers their own age. On top of overreacting, children with autism also struggle to understand the consequences of their emotional response and how to calm themselves.  

Helping my preschooler with autism self-regulate his own emotions has become one of my top priorities. When my son’s routine is disrupted or he has an issue related to sensory processing (like hearing loud noises), he reacts with full screaming and crying. Many times if I can not calm him quickly enough he will begin throwing himself on the floor or hitting himself or others. This is why teaching the life skill of self-regulation is so important for him.

Here are some two ways you too can teach your child self-regulation:

  1. Keep a set routine: Children with autism thrive on routine. If their routine is disrupted emotional outbursts will occur. Although it’s not always possible to keep a set routine each day, try using a visual schedule board to help explain your child’s activities for the day.
  • Teach coping strategies: Some of the following coping strategies may help calm your child in stressful situations, developing emotional self-regulation over time:
    • Counting to 10 (slowly)
    • Deep Breathing
    • Asking for help
    • Providing a distraction (sensory/fidget toys)

While most preschoolers are focused on learning life skills like building friendships and using manners, children with autism require a different set of life skills. I would love my child to build friendships with children his own age, but he cannot make lasting friendships without emotional self-regulation.

The life skills of toileting and self-care do not come naturally to children with autism. They need extra help with all daily self-care activities, toileting, and learning to self-regulate their own emotions. These critical life skills will help your child handle day-to-day challenges that arise and take care of him or herself.

Thanks again, to Liz Talton and Speech Blubs. – Amy Nielsen

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Amy Nielsen lives in Orlando, Florida. She is the proud mother of four children ranging in age from 5-33! She and her husband, Brent enjoy sports and traveling. Amy is a former teacher with nearly 20 years of experience, a freelance writer, and a special needs advocate. Her mission is to help educate and empower families of children with disabilities to focus on their child's interests and strengths.