Growing a family is an exciting time. But it’s also one of significant change—both for the parents and for the kiddos who might already be in this world. And if your kiddo is a spectrum kiddo, that complicates things a little further. Change is especially tough for them.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you should stop having/adopting/fostering children after you receive the autism diagnosis. If you and your partner want more, have more—you’ll just need to keep some important considerations in mind and give your spectrum child plenty of preparation. How can you do that? Here are some tips.
10. Use anatomically correct terminology when explaining pregnancy
People with autism tend to be very literal, so euphemisms expecting parents tend to use with their children may only serve to confuse your kiddo. For example, “A baby is growing in Mommy’s tummy” is confusing for a child with autism because the tummy is where food goes, not babies! Instead of using words like “stomach,” “tummy,” or “belly” to describe where the baby is growing, use the proper term, “uterus.”
9. Talk about the pregnancy early on
Your child needs to know what to expect, so tell them what you think they need to know. For example: as the baby grows inside Mom’s uterus, her uterus will also grow, and her belly will appear to get bigger; you will go to the hospital to have doctors help deliver the baby; and your child might be staying with someone else while this happens.
8. Mom, buy the same clothes you have but in different sizes
That way, the only thing that will change about you is your belly. Autism parenting lifehack, for the win!
7. Introduce the concept of a growing family to your child
There are multiple ways you can do this.
- Show them family photos. Family photos and baby pictures can help your child understand this important concept.
- Use picture books/simple stories. There are lots of books and other materials out there to teach children the ins and outs of welcoming a new sibling into the family. Find one that would work for your child—or make your own story—and then read/present it to them as often as necessary.
- Watch TV shows. There are several children’s programs that specifically cover this very subject, such as Arthur, Dora the Explorer, and Caillou. Seek out TV episodes like this and show them to your child.
6. Get them involved with preparations
What this looks like, of course, will depend on your child’s age and/or functioning level. However, a few ideas include letting your child pick out baby clothes or toys, retrieving diapers or pacifiers as needed, and decorating the baby’s room.
5. Expose your child to babies
Let your child be around babies as much as possible. Go places where they might be—the park, a daycare, a place of worship, the home of someone with a baby, etc. Whenever you and your child see babies in a public place, take note of them and point them out to your child. Explain what the baby may be doing—crying, eating, sleeping, having a diaper changed, etc. This will also give you an idea of how they will react to the various sensory experiences of having a baby, such as the sounds or smells.
Another great idea: buy a realistic-looking baby doll and care for it as if it were real. This can help your child get used to the rhythm of having a new life in the home. One super important thing, though: make sure your child knows the difference between the baby doll and a real baby!
4. Introduce sensory information early on
Are you worried about how your child will react to the baby’s cries? You don’t have to cross your fingers and wait until the baby’s born to find out. Expose your child to audio clips of a baby crying. See how they react. If they become distressed, make necessary adjustments and accommodations that will help them once the baby arrives (i.e. ensure they have noise-canceling headphones; make sure the baby’s room isn’t too close to theirs, if possible; etc.). Exposing your child to these noises may also help desensitize them.
3. Introduce your child to potential new caregivers
Chances are, your kiddo won’t be accompanying you and your partner to the hospital when the baby’s ready. So introduce them to who will be caring for them. Even if that caretaker will be, say, a grandparent they already know, ensure they’re well-acquainted before the baby’s due.
2. Ensure they have a safe space
In case sensory overload does happen or your child becomes overwhelmed with a situation involving their new sibling, ensure they have a space set aside just for them where they can escape all the input and calm down.
1. Let go of expectations for sibling bliss
Your child may not be super thrilled about the baby before or after birth, as they may not relish the idea of sharing the spotlight or having their world change. This is okay. Try not to get upset or take it personally. Help them express their negative emotions in healthy ways. Try to keep them involved, but do not force them to interact with the baby (e.g. hold them in their lap) if they are not comfortable. Chances are good that your child will eventually warm up to their new sibling—they’ll either get used to this new idea/presence or will grow to like them when the baby gets older and becomes easier to interact with.