Welcoming a new family member is an exciting and nerve-wracking experience for any family. However, autism parents may find this situation particularly difficult without proper preparation. Unexpected changes are often challenging for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to deal with, and unpredictability, inconsistent schedules, loud noises, and other sensory concerns usually accompany the arrival of a new brother or sister.
At ABA Centers of Florida, our ABA therapy services aim to treat many of the challenges an individual on the spectrum might face from unexpected changes such as the arrival of a new sibling. With the proper implementation of strategy and skills, you and your family can welcome a newborn and continue your daily routine free from complications. Here’s what autism parents should know about preparing their child for a new sibling and why the challenges of a growing family arise in the first place.
Why is Change So Difficult for Individuals with ASD?
Many individuals with autism spectrum disorder struggle with transitions and unexpected changes in their routines or environment. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), people on the spectrum may display poorly integrated communication, inflexible adherence to routines, and adverse responses to sounds and other sensory-related factors.
Since those with autism often rely on routines and predictability to feel secure and in control of their surroundings, they may become overwhelmed or anxious when there is a sudden change in their schedule, a new environment, or unexpected sensory input. They may also respond with challenging behaviors like withdrawal, repetition, tantrums, and aggression. The arrival of a newborn is never free of changes to daily routines, so it’s important to prepare a child ahead of time to avoid or limit these challenging behaviors.
Which Routines Change from the Arrival of a Newborn?
The birth of a new child brings many changes to a family’s daily routines. Expectant parents must adjust their schedules to accommodate their baby’s needs, including frequent feedings, diaper changes, and naps. The demands of a newborn can disrupt sleep patterns and require parents to be available around the clock. As a result, household chores, work schedules, and social activities may need to be rearranged or postponed.
This drastically different dynamic can easily overwhelm a child with autism. Even something as simple as a change in dinner time can lead to challenges, let alone sleep schedules, bath time, or cleaning regimens. They may also feel emotionally neglected since the new sibling demands most of their parents’ time and effort. Whatever the cause of their challenges, there are ways to address these concerns ahead of time to prepare for an altered daily routine properly.
Tips for Autism Parents Expecting a New Child
1. Discuss the Pregnancy Very Early On – The more time a child with autism has to acclimate to the arrival of a new sibling, the better prepared they will be to take on these changes. Let your child know what to expect, and for older neurodivergent children, don’t be afraid to use some anatomically accurate terminology to avoid confusion. Sometimes, being honest and upfront is the best way to go.
However, using terms like “uterus” may not always be appropriate for younger children. Remember to determine how you express the pregnancy based on your child’s age, maturity, and current verbal skills. But no matter how you say it, always let them know that physical changes to the mother’s body will soon happen so they can expect these differences in appearance.
2. Familiarize Your Child with Infants and Babies – There are many ways to familiarize a child with babies, both directly and indirectly. For the former, consider pointing out babies to your child in public without bothering the infant’s parents. Explain what the baby may be doing, whether it’s crying, sleeping, or feeding, and highlight some sensory responses one may experience around an infant.
Using a realistic baby doll is another good way to prepare a neurodivergent child for a newborn. With the doll, showcase some of the routines they can expect to see, and explain what you’re doing each time. Ensure your child knows the difference between the doll and the actual child to avoid confusion.
3. Let Your Child Take Part in Preparation – A great way to get your child excited about a new sibling is by allowing them to help with some of the preparation tasks – this can include letting them pick out baby clothes or toys, decorating the baby’s room, or even helping choose a name. By highlighting the exciting aspects of childbirth, your kid can feel comfortable and prepared to handle certain responsibilities they otherwise might’ve felt blindsided by.
4. Introduce Your Child to Potential Caregivers – It is highly unlikely that your child with autism will accompany you to and from the hospital for childbirth, meaning you will most likely need a caregiver or babysitter during this time. If your child is not used to caregivers, you can greatly benefit from acclimating them to this person well ahead of time.
Whether this is a grandparent or someone your child has never met, consider having them interact in person at least a few weeks in advance. Since due dates fluctuate, waiting until the last minute could force your child into an extremely hectic and anxiety-inducing atmosphere. Needing to be rushed to the hospital if your water breaks with no warning to your child can cause severe anxiety and emotional distress.
5. Remember Your Child’s Comfort is Key – Aside from the health of your newborn, nothing is more important than the comfort of your other children. Not every child with autism will react well to a new sibling, which is fine. The worst thing you can do is feel your child’s frustrations are your fault. Instead, find healthy ways to allow them to channel this energy and express these emotions. Please don’t force your child into any actions they don’t want to do, especially regarding the newborn. Let them adjust at their own pace and prepare to help if needed.
One way to keep your child comfortable is by ensuring they have a safe space in a time of need. If your kid becomes overwhelmed in a challenging situation, let them calm down and escape all input in a comforting environment. Give them their favorite toy or let them watch their favorite show, and make sure to tell them that it’s okay to feel this way. However, if these emotions continue for months to years, other remedial actions, such as ABA therapy, may be warranted.
ABA Therapy Helps Your Child Adapt to Change
While these tips uniquely aid autism parents in preparing their child for a new sibling, ABA therapy is one of the best and most proven methods for teaching a child necessary development skills. This comprehensive treatment approach prioritizes teaching valuable skills to children with ASD so they can limit challenging behaviors and appropriately respond to change.
ABA Centers of Florida offers ABA therapy services to children and teens to elevate academic focus and increase social, behavioral, and communication skills. Our tailored approach allows individuals to grow and develop as they please to achieve their goals and live purposeful lives. For more information regarding our ABA therapy services, contact us at (772) 773-1975.