How to Deal with Children with Autism: Tips for Parents and Caregivers

Children with ASD experience the world differently than neurotypical children, and it can be hard to know how to best support them. However, with the right mindset and strategies, you can help your child thrive.

Alan Hollander
December 28, 2023

How to Deal with Children with Autism: Tips for Parents and Caregivers

Children with ASD experience the world differently than neurotypical children, and it can be hard to know how to best support them. However, with the right mindset and strategies, you can help your child thrive.

Understanding Autism

To successfully handle children with autism, it is crucial to have a clear understanding of what autism is and the common characteristics associated with it.

What is Autism?

Autism, also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects communication, social interaction, and behavior. It is characterized by a range of symptoms, which can vary in severity from person to person. Autism is typically diagnosed in early childhood, and it is a lifelong condition.

Autism is considered a spectrum disorder because it encompasses a wide range of abilities and challenges. Individuals with autism may have different strengths and weaknesses, and they may require varying levels of support in different areas of their lives.

Common Characteristics of Autism

While the specific characteristics of autism can vary from person to person, there are several common features that are often observed in individuals with autism. These characteristics include:

  1. Communication Challenges: Children with autism may have difficulties with verbal and nonverbal communication. They may have delayed speech or struggle with understanding and using gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice.
  2. Social Interaction Difficulties: Children with autism often experience challenges in social interactions. They may struggle with understanding social cues, making eye contact, and developing and maintaining friendships.
  3. Repetitive Behaviors and Restricted Interests: Many children with autism engage in repetitive behaviors or have specific interests that they focus on intensely. These behaviors and interests may be repetitive movements (e.g., hand flapping), insistence on sameness, or intense preoccupation with a particular topic.
  4. Sensory Sensitivities: Individuals with autism may have sensory sensitivities, which means they may be more sensitive or less sensitive to sensory stimuli such as sound, light, touch, or smell. These sensitivities can affect their comfort levels and may contribute to behavioral responses.

Understanding these common characteristics of autism is essential for parents and caregivers to effectively support and interact with children on the autism spectrum. By recognizing and accommodating these challenges, parents can create a supportive environment that fosters the well-being and development of their child with autism.

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Building a Supportive Environment

Creating a supportive environment is essential for effectively handling children with autism. By implementing strategies that cater to their unique needs, parents and caregivers can create a space that promotes their well-being and development. This section will explore three key aspects of building a supportive environment: creating a structured routine, providing clear communication, and creating a sensory-friendly space.

Creating a Structured Routine

Children with autism thrive in structured environments that provide predictability and routine.

Establishing a consistent daily schedule can help them feel secure and reduce anxiety. It is important to create a visual schedule that outlines the activities and transitions throughout the day. This schedule can be displayed using visual aids such as pictures, symbols, or written words. Visual schedules offer a clear and concrete representation of the day's events, enabling children with autism to anticipate and understand what comes next.

Providing Clear Communication

Clear and effective communication is crucial when interacting with children with autism. It is important to use simple and concise language, avoiding complex sentences or abstract concepts. Visual supports, such as visual schedules, social stories, and visual aids, can enhance communication and help children understand expectations and instructions. Visual supports offer a visual representation of information, making it easier for children with autism to process and comprehend.

Creating a Sensory-Friendly Space

Sensory issues are common among children with autism, and creating a sensory-friendly space can greatly benefit their well-being. This involves providing an environment that minimizes sensory overload and accommodates their sensory needs. Consider factors such as lighting, noise levels, and textures when setting up the space. Providing options for sensory input, such as sensory toys, weighted blankets, or quiet corners, can also help children regulate their sensory experiences.

By focusing on creating a structured routine, utilizing clear communication, and establishing a sensory-friendly space, parents and caregivers can build a supportive environment for children with autism. These strategies contribute to their overall well-being, reduce anxiety, and foster their development.

It is important to remember that each child is unique, so it may be necessary to tailor these strategies to meet their individual needs. Seeking guidance from professionals, collaborating with educators, and connecting with support groups can provide additional resources and support along the autism journey.

Effective Communication Strategies

When it comes to interacting with children with autism, effective communication is key to fostering understanding and building connections. Children with autism often have unique communication styles and may face challenges in verbal expression and social interaction. In this section, we will explore three effective communication strategies that can enhance communication with children with autism: using visual supports, implementing social stories, and utilizing visual schedules.

Using Visual Supports

Visual supports are powerful tools that can help children with autism better understand and process information. Visual aids, such as pictures, symbols, or written words, can supplement verbal communication and provide visual cues to support comprehension. By incorporating visual supports into daily routines and activities, parents and caregivers can enhance communication and reduce frustration.

Benefits of Using Visual Supports

  • Enhances comprehension
  • Promotes independent communication
  • Supports transitions and changes
  • Reduces anxiety

Examples of visual supports include:

  • Visual schedules: Visual schedules provide a visual representation of the daily routine or upcoming activities. They help children with autism understand what to expect and can reduce anxiety.
  • PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System): PECS is a communication system that uses pictures or symbols to enable individuals with autism to express their needs and wants. It promotes functional communication skills and can be a valuable tool for nonverbal or minimally verbal children.
  • Visual timers: Visual timers help children understand the concept of time and facilitate transitions between activities. They provide a visual countdown, making it easier for children with autism to anticipate and prepare for changes.

Implementing Social Stories

Social stories are personalized narratives that describe social situations, events, or concepts in a structured and visual way. They help children with autism understand social expectations, navigate social interactions, and learn appropriate behaviors. Social stories are written from the child's perspective and can be customized to address specific challenges or situations.

Benefits of Implementing Social Stories

  • Enhances social understanding
  • Promotes appropriate behavior
  • Reduces anxiety in social situations
  • Facilitates social skill development

When creating social stories, it's important to use simple language, clear visuals, and focus on the desired behavior or skill. By reading and reviewing social stories with children, parents and caregivers can help them understand and apply appropriate social behaviors.

Utilizing Visual Schedules

Visual schedules are a valuable tool for children with autism, providing a visual representation of tasks, activities, or routines. They can help children understand the sequence of events and provide a sense of structure and predictability. Visual schedules can be particularly helpful in reducing anxiety and supporting transitions between activities.

Benefits of Utilizing Visual Schedules

  • Enhances understanding of routines
  • Provides structure and predictability
  • Supports independence
  • Reduces meltdowns and anxiety

Visual schedules can be created using pictures, symbols, or words, depending on the child's communication abilities. It's important to involve the child in the process, ensuring their active participation and engagement. By following the visual schedule together, parents and caregivers can help children navigate their day and promote a sense of control and independence.

Incorporating visual supports, implementing social stories, and utilizing visual schedules are effective strategies for enhancing communication with children with autism. These strategies can provide clarity, reduce anxiety, and promote understanding, ultimately fostering meaningful connections and supporting the overall development of the child.

Managing Challenging Behaviors

Children with autism may exhibit challenging behaviors that can be difficult to understand and manage. It is important for parents and caregivers to develop strategies to effectively address these behaviors in a positive and supportive manner. This section will explore three key approaches for managing challenging behaviors in children with autism: understanding the function of behavior, implementing positive behavioral supports, and utilizing reinforcement strategies.

Understanding the Function of Behavior

Behavior is a form of communication, and it is essential to understand the underlying function or purpose behind a child's behavior. Challenging behaviors often serve a specific function, such as seeking attention, escaping a task, obtaining a desired item, or sensory regulation. By identifying the function of the behavior, parents and caregivers can develop appropriate interventions to address the root cause.

It is crucial to observe and collect data on the behavior to identify patterns and triggers. This information can help determine the antecedents (what happens before the behavior) and consequences (what happens after the behavior) that may be influencing the behavior. Understanding the function of behavior allows for targeted interventions to address the specific needs of the child.

Implementing Positive Behavioral Supports

Positive behavioral supports involve teaching and reinforcing appropriate behaviors while reducing the occurrence of challenging behaviors. This approach focuses on creating an environment that supports positive behaviors and provides alternatives to challenging behaviors. It includes strategies such as visual supports, social stories, and visual schedules.

Visual supports, such as visual schedules or visual cues, can help children with autism understand expectations and routines. These visual aids provide a clear and consistent way of communicating information and can reduce anxiety and confusion.

Social stories are short narratives that describe social situations and appropriate responses. They can be used to teach and reinforce desired behaviors by providing children with autism with clear examples of how to behave in specific situations.

Utilizing visual supports and social stories can help children with autism understand expectations, communicate their needs, and navigate social interactions more effectively.

Utilizing Reinforcement Strategies

Reinforcement strategies involve using positive reinforcement to encourage and increase desired behaviors. Reinforcement can be in the form of verbal praise, tokens, or rewards that are meaningful to the child. It is important to identify individualized reinforcers that motivate the child and use them consistently to reinforce desired behaviors.

When implementing reinforcement strategies, it is essential to consider the child's preferences and interests. This ensures that the reinforcement is meaningful and encourages the child to engage in appropriate behaviors. Reinforcement should be immediate and consistent to strengthen the association between the desired behavior and the reward.

It is important to note that reinforcement strategies should focus on promoting positive behaviors rather than solely focusing on reducing challenging behaviors. By reinforcing desired behaviors, parents and caregivers can create a positive and supportive environment that encourages the child to engage in appropriate behaviors.

By understanding the function of behavior, implementing positive behavioral supports, and utilizing reinforcement strategies, parents and caregivers can effectively manage challenging behaviors in children with autism. It is essential to seek professional support, such as working with therapists and collaborating with educators, to develop and implement personalized strategies for managing challenging behaviors.

Promoting Social Skills Development

Children with autism often face challenges in social interactions, but with the right support and strategies, they can develop and improve their social skills. In this section, we will explore three key approaches to promote social skills development: facilitating peer interactions, encouraging social play, and teaching social skills.

Facilitating Peer Interactions

Facilitating peer interactions is an essential step in helping children with autism build social connections. Encouraging opportunities for social interactions with peers can foster social development and create a sense of belonging. Here are some strategies to facilitate peer interactions:

  • Structured Playdates: Arrange playdates with peers who have similar interests and provide a structured environment to support positive social interactions.
  • Group Activities: Engage your child in group activities such as sports, art classes, or social clubs where they can interact with other children and practice social skills.
  • Social Skills Groups: Consider enrolling your child in social skills groups led by professionals experienced in working with children with autism. These groups provide a supportive environment for practicing social skills with peers.

Encouraging Social Play

Social play is a crucial aspect of social development for children with autism. It helps them learn important skills such as turn-taking, sharing, and cooperation. Here are some ways to encourage social play:

  • Parallel Play: Initially, encourage parallel play, where children play alongside each other without direct interaction. This allows them to become comfortable in the presence of others.
  • Shared Interests: Identify activities or toys that your child enjoys and encourage shared play around these interests. This can help create common ground for interaction.
  • Joint Play: Gradually introduce joint play, where children play together, share toys, and engage in cooperative activities. Provide guidance and support during joint play to facilitate positive social interactions.

Teaching Social Skills

Teaching social skills directly can be highly beneficial for children with autism. Structured teaching methods can help them understand social expectations and learn appropriate behaviors. Consider employing the following strategies:

  • Social Stories: Use visual supports like social stories to explain social situations, expected behaviors, and appropriate responses. Social stories can help children with autism understand social cues and develop appropriate social skills.
  • Visual Schedules: Implement visual schedules to provide a clear sequence of social activities or interactions. Visual schedules help children anticipate and understand what is expected of them in different social situations.
  • Role-Playing: Engage in role-playing activities where you and your child practice various social scenarios. This allows them to learn and practice social skills in a safe and supportive environment.

By focusing on facilitating peer interactions, encouraging social play, and teaching social skills, parents can play a significant role in promoting the social development of children with autism. It's important to remember that each child is unique, and strategies may need to be tailored to their specific needs. Seeking guidance from professionals experienced in supporting children with autism, such as therapists and educators, can provide additional insights and strategies.

Seeking Professional Support

While there are many strategies that parents can implement to support children with autism, seeking professional support is crucial for their overall development and well-being. Working with therapists, collaborating with educators, and connecting with support groups can provide invaluable assistance in navigating the autism journey.

Working with Therapists

Therapists who specialize in autism play a vital role in providing targeted interventions and therapies to children with autism. These professionals have the knowledge and expertise to design individualized treatment plans tailored to the unique needs of each child. Therapy sessions typically focus on developing social skills, communication abilities, and addressing behavioral challenges.

Types of Therapies Description
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) ABA therapy focuses on behavior modification and skill acquisition through structured and evidence-based interventions. It helps children develop functional skills and reduce challenging behaviors.
Speech and Language Therapy Speech therapists work with children to improve communication skills, including speech articulation, receptive and expressive language, and social communication abilities. They use various techniques to enhance communication, such as visual supports and augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems.
Occupational Therapy Occupational therapists help children develop fine motor skills, sensory processing abilities, and self-care skills. They focus on improving daily living activities, sensory integration, and enhancing the child's ability to engage in meaningful activities.
Physical Therapy Physical therapists assist children in developing gross motor skills, coordination, balance, and strength. They work on improving mobility and physical abilities through targeted exercises and activities.

Collaborating with Educators

Collaboration between parents and educators is essential for ensuring that children with autism receive the necessary support in educational settings. By sharing information about the child's strengths, challenges, and individualized education plan (IEP), parents can work together with teachers to create a supportive and inclusive learning environment.

Teachers can implement strategies and accommodations that address the specific needs of the child with autism. These may include visual supports, sensory breaks, modified assignments, and social skills training. Regular communication between parents and teachers is crucial for monitoring progress, addressing concerns, and making necessary adjustments in the educational plan.

Connecting with Support Groups

Connecting with support groups can provide a sense of community and shared experiences for parents of children with autism. Support groups offer a platform for parents to exchange information, seek advice, and find emotional support. These groups often organize meetings, workshops, and online forums where parents can learn from each other and gain valuable insights into managing the challenges associated with autism.

In addition to parent support groups, there are also support groups available for siblings of children with autism. These groups can help siblings understand autism better, cope with their feelings, and foster positive sibling relationships.

Seeking professional support through therapists, collaborating with educators, and connecting with support groups can significantly enhance the journey of parenting a child with autism. By working together with these professionals, parents can access resources, strategies, and guidance that can make a positive impact on their child's development and overall well-being.


How can I help my child develop social skills?

Social skills can be challenging for children with autism, but there are strategies you can use to help them improve. Encourage your child to engage in social activities that align with their interests, such as joining a club or attending a class. You can also practice social scenarios at home, such as taking turns during a board game or practicing conversation skills.

What should I do if my child has a meltdown in public?

Meltdowns are common for children with autism, and they can happen anywhere. If your child has a meltdown in public, stay calm and try to remove them from the situation if possible. Use calming techniques that work for your child, such as deep breathing or using sensory toys. It's also important to have a plan in place for when meltdowns occur so that you can handle them effectively.

How can I support my child's education?

Education is crucial for children with autism, and it's important to advocate for their needs in the classroom. Work closely with your child's teachers and school staff to create an individualized education plan (IEP) that addresses their unique needs and strengths. You can also provide additional support at home by creating a quiet study space and helping your child with homework.

Is it okay to discipline my child when they misbehave?

Yes, it's important to set boundaries and provide consequences when necessary. However, traditional discipline methods may not be effective for children with autism. Instead of using time-outs or other punishments, focus on positive reinforcement by praising good behavior and providing rewards for positive actions.

Can children with autism live independently as adults?

Yes! While every individual is different, many people with autism go on to live fulfilling and independent lives as adults. It's important to start preparing your child for independence early by teaching life skills and encouraging them to pursue their interests. You can also seek out resources and support services in your community to help your child transition into adulthood.


In conclusion, dealing with children with autism can be challenging, but with the right mindset and strategies, you can help your child thrive. Focus on communication, create a structured environment, be mindful of sensory issues, and focus on your child's strengths. Don't forget to seek support when you need it. With patience, understanding, and love, you can help your child reach their full potential.