It’s important to express love to those who are close to us, and parents of autistic children may encounter unexpected learning curves. It’s important to find ways to show love to children in ways that reflect their own uniqueness and make them feel seen and supported. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder have the same basic desire for love and care as all children do, but may have preferences or needs based on their personality and level of functioning.
By learning about and appreciating the unique characteristics of your child–their strengths, struggles, special interests, and dreams– you can provide a loving support system and help them find success in the world.
Love encompasses a wide array of emotions such as compassion, understanding, and acceptance. When it comes to expressing love to your autistic child, having patience in your approach is just as important as being curious to learn about who they are as an individual and how they see the world. Showing your child love and showing that you love and accept them for who they are can help them feel secure, accepted, and understood.
Benefits of Showing Affection:
Healthy family connections are proven to promote overall health and mitigate risky behaviors as children move into young adulthood. Showing affection and being present with your autistic child can help improve familial bonds as well as provide them reassurance that they are safe and loved for who they are. Expressing love towards your child builds trust— an essential factor in creating positive, supportive relationships. By modeling a healthy, loving, and accepting relationship with your child, you can help them build similar relationships in the future.
Ways to Express Love and Affection
Verbal Methods of Communication:
You can express love verbally by clearly telling your child you love them or praising what others may consider minor accomplishments. This is where getting to know your child’s unique strengths and struggles greatly supports building connections! Have meaningful conversations to let them know they are important to you. Instead of critiquing behaviors, get curious by asking open-ended questions to help you both understand why they acted in certain ways.
People often assume that tone of voice makes emotions and intentions easy to understand, but this isn’t always the case. Many children on the autism spectrum respond better to visuals, physical touch, or written text over spoken word. Nonverbal communication through friendly gestures and expressions are a good way to communicate positive emotions. Smiles, high fives, thumbs-ups, and gentle hugs are a few easy ways to show support and affection. Note that every child is different, asking consent and making sure your child is comfortable is important to developing trust. Some autistic individuals have a hard time maintaining eye contact, so visual aids such as drawings with symbols representing emotions can be helpful tools that minimize the demand for eye contact.
Quality Time with Your Child:
Spending quality time together is an effective way to express love without using words or gestures. Learning about or participating in your child’s hobbies and special interests is a beneficial bonding experience. Activities such as board games or creative projects like painting, crafting, or pretend play are other ways to forge a stronger bond with your child while helping them connect with the world around them and practice diverse skills. Children receive a lot of demands and requests throughout the day, so quality time without any expectations can be a great gift. Uninterrupted periods of attention, praise, and freedom to be exactly who they are in that moment supports a healthy parent-child bond.
Overcoming Challenges in Connecting with Your Autistic Child
While autism shows up differently for each individual, communication is a shared difficulty for many autistic children. Just as others’ emotions can be difficult to understand, autistic children may be unable to identify certain emotions within themselves, or be unable to express these emotions verbally. This can feel frustrating. By learning what helps your child through overwhelming emotions, you can be prepared to redirect or face challenges side by side with your child. Focus on building a trusting, comforting relationship with your child to help ease challenges and guide your child to respond to upsetting emotions in an appropriate way.
Autistic children are uniquely sensory inputs such as lights, sounds, textures, and smells. Some everyday situations may become overwhelming: you’re at a brightly lit, bustling grocery store and your cart develops a squeaky wheel– triggering a sensory overload. This can cause extreme distress, anxiety, or discomfort to your child and often limits their ability to communicate and respond to situations. To fend off sensory overloads ahead of time, familiarize yourself with what your child is sensitive to, and develop strategies to dampen those sensations or avoid scenarios that may overwhelm them. Doing this is a great way to show your child that you love them by acknowledging their sensitivities, understanding their experience, and trying your best to plan ahead.
Some autistic children may display aggression or frustration that can be difficult to understand. For some, these behaviors can stem from failed attempts at communication and the frustration that comes from feeling misunderstood. Other times, aggressive behavior can result from a sensory overload or a change of routine. Depending on the individual, taking time to regulate emotions in a quiet space or through safe sensory stimming can help them come back to a grounded center.
Meltdowns and Shutdowns
Meltdowns and shutdowns can be triggered by sensory shutdown and can be difficult to communicate through unless you are prepared ahead of time. They may appear like temper tantrums: aggression, screaming, hitting, or crying. Shutdowns may appear more like a slow power-down: getting quiet, unresponsive, lying down, or falling asleep. Each child will have unique responses to being overwhelmed, so understanding how your autistic child responds to unique scenarios is key to being able to express love and support to them through difficult times.
Here are some tips for showing love and support during overwhelm:
- Let your child know you hear them and validate how they are feeling.
- If it is possible to do so, bring your child to a quiet space to self-regulate.
- Offer your child sensory items that have textures, shapes, colors, or sounds they enjoy.
- Keep a regulation kit that includes items such as noise-canceling headphones; sunglasses; weighted toys, vests, or blankets.
- Be respectful and try your best to avoid becoming frustrated with your child.
Expressing Love and Building a Long Lasting Relationship
You may have heard the saying: “You cannot pour from an empty cup”. To sustain a long-lasting supportive relationship with your child, it is important to care for yourself as well. Finding other families or caregivers with similar dynamics can be a great way to develop a support network for your family. Professionals can also offer support to you and your child through comprehensive therapy, skill-building, academic support, and specialized therapeutic adventure activities.
Discover Seven Star’s model combines outdoor adventure with residential treatment, built upon the foundation of positive psychology, self-efficacy, self-determination, and cognitive theory. We offer the very best in strengths-focused treatment for students struggling with neurodevelopmental disorders. Our encouraging, skill-building approach helps students develop “real world” life and social skills.
Our team provides autistic children the opportunity to practice new skills, build awareness, increase mindfulness, and build self-efficacy. Success is possible and Seven Stars is here to help your family every step of the way. We turn challenges into an opportunity for growth and success.