Changes to a family dynamic, big or small, can severely impact the daily routine of children, particularly those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Whether this alteration results from loss, going off to college, work obligations, or other instances, it can be difficult for children on the spectrum to handle the changes and cope with the new situation. One of the most considerable challenges for children with ASD, however, is adjusting to a new brother or sister. Autism parents expecting a child often need to take extra measures to ensure their child with ASD understands what’s happening and why.
Properly adjusting to change is one of the many skills we reinforce at ABA Centers of America. We understand how massive milestones like the arrival of a new child require a delicate approach. To ensure you have the tools and strategies your family needs to prepare for this change, check out these valuable tips for autism parents expecting a child.
What Makes Change Difficult for Children on the Spectrum?
Individuals with ASD heavily rely on routines and predictability to feel in control and secure in their environment. Sudden transitions and changes to this normalcy can quickly overwhelm them and fuel anxiety or stress. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) states that those on the spectrum may display poorly integrated communication, adverse responses to sounds and other stimuli, and inflexible adherence to routines. They may respond to changes with challenging behaviors such as aggression, tantrums, withdrawal, or elopement.
How Does the Arrival of a Newborn Alter a Daily Routine?
The arrival of a new baby in the family brings a wave of transformations in daily life. Expecting parents find themselves reshaping their routines to cater to the needs of their newborn, encompassing feeding sessions, diaper changes, and nap schedules. The newborn’s demands often disrupt regular sleep patterns, requiring round-the-clock attention from parents. Consequently, everyday tasks, work arrangements, and social engagements might necessitate adjustments or postponements.
For a child with autism, this profound shift in dynamics can pose considerable challenges. Minor alterations can unsettle children on the spectrum, such as shifting dinner times, changes to sleep routines, bathing schedules, or customary cleaning practices. Emotional unease can also emerge, as the new baby claims the majority of parental focus and time. Whatever the source of these challenges, parents can take proactive steps to address these concerns in advance, ensuring a well-prepared approach to navigate the modified daily routine.
Tips for Autism Parents Expecting a Child
- Initiate Early Pregnancy Discussions – The sooner you begin discussing the impending arrival of a new sibling with your child on the spectrum, the better prepared they’ll be for the changes ahead. Inform your child about what to anticipate, and for older neurodivergent kids, consider using anatomically accurate language to prevent confusion. Honesty is often the most effective approach, even though terms like “uterus” might not seem suitable for younger children. Adjust how you communicate about the pregnancy based on your child’s age, maturity, and communication skills. Regardless of your phrasing, ensure your child understands that physical changes in the mother’s body are on the horizon, helping them anticipate these alterations.
- Familiarize Your Child with Infants – Easing your child into the idea of babies can be done directly and indirectly. In public, subtly point out babies to your child, explaining their actions like crying, sleeping, or feeding and clarifying potential sensory reactions. Using a lifelike baby doll can also be effective in preparing a child for a newborn. Using the doll, illustrate anticipated routines, clarifying the distinction between the doll and the actual baby to avoid confusion.
- Involve Your Child in Preparations – Involving your child in preparing for the new sibling can foster excitement. Let them participate in tasks such as selecting baby clothes or toys, decorating the nursery, or even assisting in choosing a name. Highlighting the positive aspects of the impending arrival can make your child feel at ease and ready to handle specific responsibilities. Plus, it’ll strengthen their upcoming bond with the new sibling.
- Introduce Potential Caregivers – Since your child with autism may not accompany you to the hospital, arranging for a caregiver in advance is vital. Whether it’s a grandparent or someone unfamiliar, ensure they meet and interact with your child a few weeks before the due date. Last-minute introductions can lead to heightened anxiety, especially if the unexpected happens and you must rush to the hospital, leaving your child anxious and distressed.
- Maintain Predictability in Routines – Children on the autism spectrum often thrive in structured environments. As you prepare for a newborn, strive to maintain consistency in your child’s daily routines as much as possible. Predictable schedules can provide stability and comfort, helping your child navigate the changes more smoothly. Even if the newborn shifts these daily endeavors, getting as close to the norm as possible is much better than allowing the drastic changes to unfold.
- Create Social Stories – Social stories are personalized narratives that help individuals with autism understand and navigate various situations. Craft a social story based on the new sibling’s arrival, detailing what will happen and how your child can respond. By utilizing visual aids and simple language, these stories can effectively prepare your child for the adjustments in the family dynamic.
- Involve Them in Baby Care – As the new baby arrives, involve your child in age-appropriate baby care activities. Try to encourage them to assist gently, like holding a bottle or helping during diaper changes. This involvement nurtures a sense of responsibility and fosters a positive connection between your child and the new sibling.
- Prioritize Your Child’s Comfort – Beyond the newborn’s health, autism parents expecting a new child should remember that their other children’s comfort is paramount. Some children with autism might not respond positively to a new sibling, and that’s okay. Avoid blaming yourself for their frustrations. Instead, offer constructive ways for them to express their emotions. Don’t coerce your child into actions they’re uncomfortable with, particularly concerning the newborn. Allow them to adapt at their own pace and be ready to provide support if necessary.
Creating a comfortable space for your child is crucial. If they become overwhelmed, allow them to retreat to a safe environment to calm down. Offer their favorite toy or show, assuring them it’s alright to feel this way. Consider seeking additional assistance, like ABA therapy, if persistent emotional challenges arise.
How Can ABA Therapy Help Autism Parents Expecting a Child?
Autism parents expecting drastic changes in their home life can also consider ABA therapy for their child to assist in these adjustments. ABA therapy, considered the gold standard in autism care, teaches children the necessary developmental skills to reduce challenging behaviors. Children learn coping strategies to handle changes to their routines and environment while gaining the confidence to explore potentially intimidating situations.
Clinic-based and in-school ABA therapy also gives parents additional time to care for their newborn, whether getting some deserved rest during the day, extra time for meal prep, or going to the store for new baby clothes.
Prepare Your Child for Change at ABA Centers of America
At ABA Centers of America, we offer comprehensive ABA therapy programs for children and teens to teach these essential life skills regarding routines and change. Our tailored approach gives children the tools to achieve their goals, live meaningful lives, and foster autonomy.
Call us at (772) 773-1975 or visit our website for more information regarding our ABA therapy or to schedule a free consultation.