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Living with Autism

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If you have a child with a diagnosis of autism, you’ve probably been bombarded with facts, opinions and medical jargon, but what about living with the condition on a day-to-day basis?

Because the autitic spectrum is so wide, it affects every person in a different way, which means identifying the best coping strategies and management techniques can be difficult.

Chances are you have become experienced at determining which particular aspects of life your child has difficulties with and there are measures you can take to help control some of those external triggers to make living with autism that bit easier for them. Autism is a serious lifelong condition and people who have it can find it very hard to make sense of the world. Everyday tasks can be confusing, meaningless or frightening, and sufferers often have trouble communicating and interacting with others. By understanding some of the difficulties faced, you can make changes to the environment, particularly at home, to make it less confusing or challenging.

Living with autism

Many people with autism have sensory issues, in which the five senses are either over-developed (hypersensitive), where background noises can be unbearably loud or distracting, or under-developed (hyposensitive), or where senses such as pain or extremes of temperature are not even felt.

Here are some of the basic measures you can take to make the environment and surroundings more autism-friendly:

Structure

Creating a well-structured environment is one of the key strategies to help someone with autism cope with the challenges they face. People with the condition often feel happier and less anxious if they know what is going to happen on a given day. Sudden changes to routine need to be avoided if possible. Words, pictures, symbols and visual aids can be used to reinforce structure and a clear start, middle and end to activities.

Environment

Thinking about the physical set up of a room, such as furniture and flooring, can create a calming, positive environment, while helping a person with autism recognise what activities take place in a particular room.

For example, kitchen cupboards could be labelled with words or symbols to identify what’s inside.

Decor

It may be more relaxing if furniture is placed around the edges of a room with a clear central space. Using different colours to distinguish the walls, carpet and furniture can make the room easier to navigate and low colour one-shade walls, such as cream, are generally accepted as the best option. Non-patterned floors and furnishings are also thought to be less confusing.

Lights

Soft lighting is best where possible as fluorescent or harsh lights can be distracting, or even painful to someone with autism. Adjustable lighting can be dimmed to a calming effect and some believe it’s best to avoid slatted blinds in favour of curtains.

Noise

Children and adults with autism can find it difficult to block out noises that other people automatically ignore. This is where using sound-deadening furnishings such as thick carpet can help and double glazed windows.

Safety

As well as the usual precautions you would take when there are young children in the house, you may need to take additional and more permanent measures for a child with autism. These include locks or high handles on cupboards and putting electrical sockets outside the bedroom or inside locked cupboards if possible.

Some people with autism may try to run away, either from the house, school or when out and about. In this situation you can get special equipment to warn you if this has happened. They can also wear an identity bracelet just in case.

Sensory items

Some parents create a sensory room in their house for their child to retreat to. This should be a quiet area free from distractions and equipped with sensory items such as fibre optics, bubble tubes, mirror balls and bean bags.

If a sensory room is not an option, creating a sensory corner behind a dark sheet of fabric may be possible. Putting together a portable bag of sensory items such as stress balls, a whistle, unbreakable mirror and scented lotions, could also help.

Outside

Running around in the garden can be a good method of relieving stress in a safe environment. A trampoline and/or punch bag can also help in this respect.

For more information visit the National Autistic Society

 

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