Optimal living environments and Autism

By Kiersten Miller

An autistic child’s living environment can affect their behavior and the difficulty for the parents of caring for them. The first issue is the attitudinal environment. For example, if the parents are always stressed or frustrated with any of their daily routines this can show in their voice, facial expressions, and body posture. This environment is toxic; the fix is theoretically easy but pulling off a change could be difficult. When this change is successful, children can turn from being non-interactive to being more willing to socialize with their family and could be less oppositional. The correlation between the attitude of the parents and how the children behave is seen by many psychologists.  These therapists have realized that when a parent describes themselves as stressed and uncomfortable with taking care of their child, the frequencies of their child conducting self-stimulating rituals, having more defiant and challenging behaviors, and decreased eye contact increases.

The child is also more stressed which is observed by having reduced motor planning skills and more repetitive and incoherent speech. Also, when a child is near a parent that considered themselves uncomfortable, the child also appears more agitated and stressed. These children seem less motivated overall and tend to be less social when their environment is not tension free. When the parents acknowledge that their attitude is affecting their child and they are willing to change, there is an observable transformation in the child’s behavior. Good behavior should be rewarded. These positive reinforcements can help a child become less confused on the right and wrong behaviors along with making them feel like they are being paid attention to.  Therapists suggest that parents be willing to let people help them with child care. When the parents can have time for just themselves without their biggest stressor, their child, near them their emotional state becomes better.

The parents also have control over who their child comes in contact with the large majority of the time. When people that are extremely tense or awkward around the child have decreased contact with the child, the child’s demeanor may change to being more positive. Also, if parents frequently say “No” to their autistic child, the child may become more intrigued with the item that is not to be touched or a place they should not go in because of the strong reaction from the parent. To the child, the reaction is interesting and they crave to see it more. Other children when they hear the word “No” become less interactive with the parent and tend to play and explore less. Parents can reduce the number of times they use strong words against their child’s behavior by taking away the inducer of the conflict like locking away the items or the door to a private room. Making the items or rooms unavailable can eliminate a lot of situations that would have resulted in discipline. If a child has a special playroom that is dedicated just to them it can increase desirable behavior. Rooms like these help parents work with their child in a place with the least amount of distractions and allow for improved focus. In these rooms, parents can continue the work that the therapist may have started.

Children with autism have a difficulty applying what they learn in one setting like a therapists’ office to other places like their home. When the techniques are similar at home and at the therapist, the child may learn how to apply everything they learn to all aspects of their life. A scheduled time for the use of the playroom along with schedules for everything else including meals, bedtime, and school can help the child be cooperative because there are minimal surprises during their daily routine. Most children with autism have a special interest in one particular topic or activity. Having a room dedicated to that topic or activity can make the child feel comfortable in their own home because they know that their family considers their interests as a priority. Dedicating a room for the sole purpose of one activity like watching TV, eating meals or play time can allow the child to focus on the activity they are supposed to be doing and it keeps the outside stimulation to a minimum. Furthermore, the child’s sensory environment can overall affect how they respond to others.  Sounds like background music, outside traffic, machine noise and loud conversations affect an autistic child. These sounds might take away a child’s attention from their intended activity and distract them. When their environment is noisy, their eye contact becomes decreased, and they become less interactive. Some children are sensitive to certain sounds, but these are sometimes very difficult to eliminate.

A child can become accustomed to these sounds gradually in relaxed settings. Another environment in the sensory category is visual over-stimulation. In most elementary schools across the country the walls are covered in posters, colors, and other learning decorations, these can be helpful for a child without autism but can hurt an autistic child’s ability to concentrate and learn. In visually busy environments the child’s concentration is frequently diverted by these decorations from their work. Lighting is also a factor. Fluorescent lighting can tire a child with autism quickly and decreases their eye contact and their attention span due to the pulsating light. Moreover, colors that make an autistic child more attentive can be used more during play activities and then less during times the child should be paying more attention to people rather than their clothes or toys.

The differences between a socially active autistic child and inactive autistic child can all depend on the home environment the child is in. The mindsets of the parents and the home arrangements they have created have a direct impact on their child’s behavior.

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