Autism is a condition that affects the way a child relates to their environment and other people. Learning how to care for a child with autism, and knowing where to get help, can make things easier for parents and carers, and most of all for the child.
Autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) is an umbrella term that includes all the different types of disorder. However, often ASD is simply referred to as 'autism'.
What is autism?
The term “spectrum” is used to emphasise that autism presents differently in every single person. People with autism have a wide range of challenges as well as abilities.
Children with autism might have many abilities and interests that are unaffected by autism.
But many children with autism have problems with:
- social interaction
- repetitive activities or restricted interests
- dealing with sensory input
These problems are usually present from birth but become more apparent in the first three years of life and continue throughout adulthood. People don’t know what causes autism but research suggests that genes play a strong part.
Features of autism
You might wonder about autism in your young child if they:
- are not being interested in other children
- are slow to speak
- don't wave or clap when others would
- avoid eye contact
- do the same thing over and over, like rocking, lining up objects or flapping arms
- like routines and get upset when things change
What to do if your child is diagnosed with autism
First, remember that all children with autism are different, in the way that all adults with heart disease are different. A commonly used catch-phrase is that if you have seen one child with autism, you have seen one child with autism.
If your doctor thinks your child might have autism, they may refer you to a paediatrician (a doctor who specialises in children) so you can get more information and get some help. The paediatrician will do a series of tests. If your child is diagnosed with autism they will advise you about early intervention therapies and services that might help your child.
Autism can have a big impact on you, other children, and family life. It's important that you work with health and disability professionals to reduce these impacts, and that they are willing to work with you. You need an effective management and treatment plan that works for everyone.
How to care for a child with autism
Caring for a child with autism can be challenging. Children with autism often find it hard to understand simple instructions and social behaviour.
Particular treatments include:
- speech and language therapy: to help your child communicate better
- occupational therapy: to help them deal with everyday activities
- psychological therapies: to help with social skills, emotions, and stress
The most important thing is that you get the help and support you need to manage life every day.
There are programs available that teach skills for parents of children with autism. There is also support from groups like Autism Spectrum Australia, Autism Awareness Australia and autism associations.
As children with autism grow older they may need more treatment. Choosing a school can be difficult, but your child has the same rights to education as all other children.
What help is available?
- Autism Spectrum Australia (ASPECT) provides information, diagnostic assessment, and intervention. Call 1800 277 328.
- Each state and territory has an autism association.
- For advice or emotional support, talk to a Pregnancy Birth and Baby maternity child care nurse on 1800 882 436.
- Contact Centrelink for financial help, including payments for carers.
- Through its Helping Children with Autism Program, Medicare covers some assessments and treatments. This is being replaced in parts by the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Learn more about disability and parenting support.
The following websites have more information about young children and autism:
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: October 2019