Children with autism require healthy mental stimulation to live their best lives. The developmental disorder can impact communication, behavior, and several other areas of development.
It’s estimated that nearly 1 in 50 children in the US are diagnosed with autism, but that ratio appears to be narrowing with every passing year. The disorder affects an increasing number of families, and many find it tough to deal with it proactively.
If you’re a caregiver for an autistic child and seeking aid for their developmental difficulties, you may wonder, “Who do I talk to? Where do I go for help? Is there an autism center near me?”
The good news is that several autism centers can be found throughout the country, and they can be valuable resources for parents and other caregivers. However, even though early intervention and regular therapy are two of the most critical components of healthy living, the impact of mental health and state of mind can’t be overstated.
Fortunately, before you seek external support, there are several ways to improve mental health outcomes at home and in your community. Keeping that in mind, here are four beneficial ways to promote mental health in children with autism.
Exercise is beneficial for any child dealing with developmental difficulty, not just children with autism. It promotes positive mental health through physical activity, and countless studies have shown how regular exercise can promote good sleep, increase mental focus, and improve overall mood.
Moving the body regularly can also help to reduce anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges. It promotes the release of endorphins, natural chemicals the body produces to reduce stress, allowing you to feel more positive.
Increasing your heart rate also improves memory and attention span, particularly useful for children who struggle in these areas. Confidence and self-esteem also improve, provided the chosen exercise is facilitated properly and managed responsibly.
As an additional benefit, encouraging children with autism to exercise also provides opportunities for social interaction and connection, whether that’s joining a team sport or simply going for a leisurely stroll with a friend.
Create a structured routine
Structure and a schedule can help children with autism feel more in control of their environment, providing a sense of stability from predictable activities. This daily routine should include consistent sleep hours, meal times, and other activities.
A rigid schedule aims to allow children with autism to feel comfortable enough to develop their skills and personality, which ultimately helps reduce behavior challenges further down the line. A child who knows what to expect is less likely to become overwhelmed, which can lead to fewer tantrums, meltdowns, and other behavioral issues.
Creating a structured routine can be as simple as establishing consistent meal and sleep times or incorporating daily activities such as reading, homework, and playtime. No matter what, it’s important to introduce the planned routine as early as possible, ideally with a visual schedule or checklist.
Provide sensory input
Calming sensory experiences can be of great comfort to children with autism. For example, objects such as weighted blankets, fidget toys, and scent candles can make them feel more relaxed and in control of their surroundings.
Our senses help us understand and navigate the world around us, but overstimulation leads to discomfort and frustration. However, certain types of sensory input, in the right amounts, can calm the nervous system and reduce stress levels.
Individuals with autism often have difficulty processing sensory information, which leads to sensory overload and is often followed by non-responsive behavior. By regulating their external interactions, you can help children with autism feel more comfortable in their environment and improve their ability to interact with others.
If you’re struggling to find a balance that works, the best thing to do is consult a therapist and receive expert advice on the best types and amounts of stimulation the child needs. After all, every individual with autism is unique and has different needs and wants.
Foster social connections
Encouraging a child with autism to engage in social interaction can be difficult at the best of times. The hardest part is finding activities that align with the child’s interests, as it can often turn into a guessing game where there’s a high likelihood for misunderstandings to occur.
The key here is to be as receptive to the child’s needs as possible, no matter how long it takes to find some sort of mutual understanding. The results are worth it, as research shows that strong social connections lead to improved mental health, not to mention opportunities for learning, skill-building, and emotional support.
Social skills such as communication and conflict resolution can’t be developed without practice, and it’s a good idea to educate children with autism at home before interacting with new people and places. At the same time, a child who has been cooped up too long will probably be too afraid to meet new people, so a fine balance must be struck.
Social connections improve the overall quality of life and make children with autism feel more connected to the external world. Luckily, nowadays, children with autism can gain social opportunities that were unheard of in the past, and as time goes on, these opportunities will likely continue to expand.