All children come into the world believing that they are the center of the universe, which is a belief that they grow out of as they begin to understand that other people have feelings and beliefs that can differ from theirs, according to the Autism-help.org fact sheet. If you are the parent of an autistic child, however, you may notice that your child has a difficult time understanding that other people think differently than they do or that someone else could interpret information differently. Because of this, having a clear set of rules and boundaries will help your autistic child learn appropriate behavior, even if he has a difficult time understanding why some behaviors are appropriate and some are not.
According to the Bright Tots, an educational resource for child development, autistic children rely heavily on structure to function. The reasoning being that the world is a confusing place to a child with autism because he doesn’t understand the world the same way you do. Your child struggles to understand basic sensory data and why one piece of information is more important than another. Having structure in his life helps him to learn what behavior is appropriate in any situation, because the routine rarely changes and he becomes used to what he understands is normal. Structure helps him know what’s acceptable and what’s right through repetitious routine.
Autistic children with routines are less stressed than those without them, according to Autism-help.org. When your child has a strict routine, she is less likely to go into panic mode or become afraid. Because many autistic children have a difficult time understanding differences and transitions in their lives, it’s important that you help minimize stress by establishing specific rules and boundaries in her routine. For example, you can create a chart with a timetable on it that allows your child to see precisely what each portion of the day looks like. For example, you can help minimize stress by making it a rule that she has to wash her hands in between outside playtime and lunch each day. To ensure she follows this rule and knows that it is a requirement to wash her hands, you can place a photo of soap and water on the timetable between lunch and playtime, which helps her stick to her routine while still obeying the rules you’ve set for her.
Preventing Tantrums and Meltdowns
While all children are different and have their own set of reactions to change or upset, your autistic child may be one of the many who occasionally throws a tantrum or has a meltdown. For example, if you go on vacation it may scare and confuse him to wake up in a different place with a different routine for a few days. According to the Autism-help.org fact sheet, you need to prepare your autistic child for change well in advance and as often as possible to help minimize any negative reactions he may have to a change in the rules and boundaries. It is imperative that when you upset his routine or schedule that you talk to him in advance, warning him that the rules and boundaries you have at home are still in effect wherever you go on vacation. If you want to change a few rules, such as bedtime or the amount of time your child gets to play outside, you must warn him in advance that the rules will be different to help him adjust.
Boundaries are important for your child because autistic children sometimes have a difficult time understanding even the most basic rules. According to helpguide.org, you can help your child understand boundaries by using visual cues, such as colors that represent things that are okay and that are dangerous. For example, you can teach your child that red means no and place red tape or red paper on doors in your home that she is not permitted to use without help, such as exit doors or the oven door. This helps your child understand what’s okay and what isn’t without becoming confused. While a child without autism may have no trouble connecting rules he already knows to new rules, many autistic children struggle to do the same thing, which makes visualization to help clarify boundaries even more important.