April 2021 – After the NICU

Jenny R. McCormick, Senior Editor, PreemieWorld

Babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy may be more likely to show signs or symptoms of autism than other babies. Are you years out of the NICU and now have a child with an Autism diagnosis? You are not alone. Here are a few suggestions for helping you and your child thrive:

  • Don’t wait for a diagnosis. Seek help as soon as you suspect something’s wrong. Don’t wait to see if your child will catch up later or outgrow the problem. Early intervention is the most effective way to speed up your child’s development and reduce the symptoms of autism over the lifespan.
  • Become an expert on your child. Just as you advocated and researched for your preemie in the NICU, it is no different when you are facing an autism diagnosis. Educate yourself and reach out to professionals with experience. Learning all you can about autism and getting involved in treatment will go a long way toward helping your child.
  • Early Intervention Services. Infants and toddlers through the age of two receive assistance through the Early Intervention Program. For autism, an IFSP would include a variety of behavior, physical, speech, and play therapies. It would focus on preparing kids with ASD for the eventual transition to school. To find Early Intervention Services near you: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/parents/state-text.html
  • Provide structure and safety. Children with autism tend to do best when they have a highly-structured schedule or routine. Create a schedule for your child and try to be consistent with it to create a routine that works for your child as well as for you as a parent.
  • Build on your child’s interests. Figure out ways to have fun together by thinking about the things that make your child smile, laugh, and come out of her/his shell.
  • Pay attention to your child’s sensory sensitivities. Many children with autism are hypersensitive to light, sound, touch, taste, and smell. Figure out what sights, sounds, smells, movements, and tactile sensations trigger your kid’s disruptive behaviors and what elicits a positive response. If you understand what affects your child, you’ll be better at troubleshooting problems, preventing situations that cause difficulties, and creating successful experiences.
  • Find help and support. Caring for a child with ASD can demand a lot of energy and time. There may be days when you feel overwhelmed, stressed, or discouraged. Parenting isn’t easy, and raising a child with special needs is even more challenging. In order to be the best parent you can be, it’s essential that you take care of yourself.
  • Support Groups – Joining an ASD support group is a great way to meet other families dealing with the same challenges you are. Parents can share information, get advice, and lean on each other for emotional support.
  • Respite Care – Every parent needs a break now and again. And for parents coping with the added stress of ASD, this is especially true. In respite care, another caregiver takes over temporarily, giving you a break for a few hours, days, or even weeks.