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Helping A Child with Autism to Prepare for A New Sibling
Children with autism generally find it tough to adapt to even minor changes and a new sibling is just about the biggest event your child will experience. Understand and accept that you will face challenges while preparing your child for their role as a big brother or sister. It is generally best to tell your child well in advance so that he has adequate time to adjust to the idea of your growing family.
6 Ways to Prepare your Autistic Child for a New Sibling: Visit Babies
Children with autism have trouble with abstract thinking so instead of trying to explain what it would be like to have a baby in the house, take him to visit a friend or relative who has a baby. When helping him interact with the baby, stick to concrete questions – this means that instead of asking “How do you like the baby”, you can ask where is the baby – to prompt your child to point to the baby. You can follow that up with, “what is that” – to prompt your child to say “baby” which will help to reinforce the idea of a baby. During your visit, explain things to your child such as, “the baby is crying because he is hungry” to help him understand what to expect from a newborn baby.
Involve Your Child in the Preparations
Find ways to involve your child in your preparations for the new baby. This would largely depend on your child’s age and functioning level. Start with simple things like allowing him to choose the baby’s clothes when you go shopping – show him 2 pieces and buy the one he picks. You can follow the same process when buying diapers and pacifiers. You can even allow him to choose the color for the baby’s room or ask him to do a drawing of him with the baby that you can frame and hang up in the baby’s room.
Practice Positive Reinforcement daily
Children with autism respond well to positive reinforcement so talk about the baby every day. You can make a game out of it where you ask questions like “how will the baby cry” and praise him every time that he gets the answer right. Talk about the baby and use words like “big brother” constantly to help him understand his new role. It may take time for your child to accept the change and respond positively so be persistent and resilient.
Use TV shows To Teach
Children with autism are less likely to show interest in books and reading but they enjoy watching the same TV shows repeatedly. You can use episodes from your child’s favorite TV shows to help him understand his role as an elder sibling. For instance, if your child likes Daniel Tiger, you can repeatedly play season 2 episodes such as “Daniel Learns about Being a Big Brother” and “The Playground Is Different with Baby” to help him understand how he can become a “big helper” and embrace the newest member of your family. If your child has conflicted feelings about the new baby, you can watch Arthur with him since Arthur also has similar thoughts but then concludes that he enjoys being a big brother to his sisters.
Introduce a New Schedule
A new baby will mean a completely different daily schedule for your child. Since children with autism have difficulty managing even small changes, it would be wise to start tweaking his schedule well in advance. For instance, dad can start to take over some of mum’s duties including making breakfast, morning ablutions, and bedtime routines. If you have decided to get a caregiver during and after delivery, it would be best to introduce your child to the caregiver a few months prior and arrange for regular visits as this will help him adjust to the new schedule once the baby arrives.
Role Play to Prevent Sensory Overload
Autism and hypersensitivity go hand in hand – to a child with autism, loud sounds are more piercing, and smells are overpoweringly intense. Therefore, it is much harder for them to process and ignore background stimuli which can lead to sensory overload. Role plays with a life-size doll and plays audio clips of a crying baby so that your child gets used to it. You can also teach your child how to help you change diapers by changing the doll’s diaper –use a little baby powder and lotion each time so that your child gets used to the smell as well. You can carry the doll around in a sling for a month or so before the baby comes to help your child understand that you will have to share your attention between him and the baby.
Children with autism are often egocentric due to the nature of their disability and they have difficulty reading the reactions of others. Their misbehavior is generally the result of frightening or overwhelming experiences. According to What To Expect experts, it is important for parents to accept that they cannot rush the process and that it will take time and effort for their child to adjust to these changes.