Understanding ADHD and Autism in Children: How to Parent a Child with ADHD and Autism
Parenting a child with ADHD and autism requires a unique approach. In this blog, we will explore expert tips and techniques on how to parent a child with ADHD and autism effectively.
Developing an understanding ADHD and Autism is often the beginning of a new journey within families following diagnosis. One that allows a better understanding of our young people, who they are and how they see the world. However with this, can come the challenge of rethinking how we parent, tweaking our approach and challenging our own parenting styles. This blog looks at some hints and tips to consider for you and your family.
Parenting a Child with ADHD and Autism: Tips for Creating a Supportive Home Environment
Home is our sanctuary, where we can close the door, retreat from the world and be our truest self. The spectrum of autism and ADHD is so varied, however, many young people with autism and ADHD find the outside world a challenge, a place where they have to ‘mask’ and spend copious amounts of emotional energy to try and ‘fit in’. On returning home, taking off the ‘mask’, readjusting to being home and processing the day can take time, for some people this takes a few minutes, others much longer. It can be a vulnerable or emotive time of the day. Have you noticed your young person become much quieter on coming home from school? Do you see episodes of upset, frustration, distress that appear to stem from nothing at times during the day? It could be that your young person needs a little alone time to transition back to their safe place, it might be that they need some support and help to re-adjust.
Tips for Home Environment
Setting up home as the place where we can relax and be ourselves is key. Relaxing for some people might be a bubble bath or quiet book to read, for others it may be more active, using sensory strategies to regulate emotions or engaging in things that we enjoy. It is important for us as parents to step back and consider what we see our young person actually doing at these times to self regulate then adapting our own demands appropriately. For example, a young person who is quiet on the way home and doesn’t share much about the school day in the car on the way home. If pushed during the car ride home for details of their day, you may instead be met with resistance to speak, lots of ‘nothings’ and ‘I don’t know’ response to questions or maybe even conflict or arguments. Instead may respond with more details if you leave this conversation until later in the evening once they’ve had a chance to regulate themselves or had time process the details of their day themselves.
Creating home a place where it is ok to express our emotions, even the hard ones, with some time after big emotional experiences to reflect on how we have managed situations and how we might respond next time we feel that way. This works both ways, if your young person sees you acknowledging when you’ve not got things quite right, it gives an example for them to model and a different way to think about how they have handled a situation or an alternative that might help in the future. This should be a space free from judgement, accusations or blame, instead just allowing for honest and open discussion.
Strategies for Home and School
School is a place young people spend a huge amount of time throughout the week. Working with education staff and teachers to better understand the aspects of school that are a challenge for your child while also thinking about their areas of real strength can support you to personalise and plan for their needs. Routine, structure and consistency can help make the world a little more predictable, therefore if the adults involved in your young person’s life can get involved in these types of discussions, working together with your child can help open up opportunities and experiences that may previously have felt like an impossibility.
Managing Executive Functioning Challenges Planning
Executive functioning skills include the ability to plan, organise, goal set and remember a sequence of tasks to allow us to achieve our aims. For example, planning your journey to a destination, organising your homework priorities, tasks that we often don’t think of in terms of separate ‘steps’. For individuals with autism or ADHD, executive dysfunction may be a real challenge. Knowing where to start or finish tasks, becoming overwhelmed with the volume of ‘steps’ required to achieve our goals or struggling to recall multiple part instructions can have a real impact on self-confidence and motivation. After all, if I don’t know where to start tidying my really messy bedroom isn’t it less stressful to avoid this entirely? If I don’t know how to plan each step to get to the shop, or what I will need when I get there, shouldn’t I just forget about it and go without?
The reality is, when faced with tasks that we need to do, yet feel impossible to complete, anxiety rises, emotions can become fraught, and tension builds and this can lead to all manner of behavioural presentations; be it expressed emotions or distress, withdrawal, procrastination among many others. For parents, recognising that your young person may struggle in this area allows you to consider alternative ways of helping while building self-esteem. Can you use planners, organisers, diaries, notes sections or reminders on their phone? What about the use of visual planners or step-by-step instructions in written or pictorial form that your young person could refer back to when they need to? The use of such tools allows for creating a sense of independence but with a helping hand for when it is needed. In turn, promoting and encouraging self-esteem building and their own sense of self-worth and value.
Supporting Social Relationships
Are friendships a challenge? Many young people (and adults) with autism and ADHD find navigating relationships tough. It can be hard to read non-verbal cues, it can be a challenge to pick up on the subtle undertones of discussions or interactions that happen day to day in conversation. It can be tough to know what to say or do in situations that are unfamiliar. Making and sustaining relationships and friendships can be a real challenge at times. Supporting your young person to practice social skills in different places or problem solving with them where things might have gone wrong in situations could be helpful.
Taking Care of Yourself While Parenting a Child with ADHD and Autism
Amid the responsibilities of parenting a child with ADHD and autism, it’s essential not to forget about ourselves. Taking time for self-care and seeking support from local and national groups can make a significant difference in our well-being.
As parents we often spend all of our time meeting the needs of our children, running to and from our own commitments, such as work, after school clubs, meal planning, running the home among many other tasks. We become masters of our own universe, skilfully balancing the needs of those around us to ensure that things ‘keep moving’. Often, in amongst this, we forget about our own needs or these are bumped to the bottom of our priority list, not intentionally but because we shine the spotlight on the urgent or imminent tasks leaving little time to pause and think about what we, as parents or caregivers, actually need for ourselves.
You are vital to your young person, when you look after your own emotional, social and physical wellbeing, not only do you allow yourself the cognitive and emotional space to thrive but you also set an example to your child as to how to look after themselves too. Taking time out for your own interests, using relaxation strategies that you enjoy and engaging in activities that bring you a sense of peace and wellbeing promotion can give you the ‘down time’ you need to be the best version of yourself.
Parenting a Child with ADHD and Autism: Seeking Supportive Groups and Services
Accessing local and national supportive groups, that can link you with other families experiencing similar challenges can also be helpful. There are various services and support networks all over the UK, accessible through a quick online search, that can put you in touch with groups for parents, siblings and for young people themselves. In addition, accessing professional support through your locally available services may also be helpful, such as CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) or your local Neurodevelopmental Team.
Parenting a child with ADHD and autism may present its share of challenges, but with the right techniques and support, it can also be an incredibly rewarding journey. Remember to be patient, seek guidance when needed, and practice self-care along the way.
If you need professional support, or a Child’s ADHD/ASD assessment, book a free 15-minute consultation today.