This first Ask Me Monday (AMM1) question covers the topics of 1) the genetic basis of autism and 2) autism family support. Families with multiple autistic members find themselves in a situation where it is helpful to balance differing routine and sensory needs. This article include Autism Family Support Tips to help gain that balance.
I have two autistic children. After reviewing my husband’s school records and diagnostic reports, it seems like he fits within the autism spectrum by today’s standards. With this information, I wonder if I should adjust how I do things in the house to keep the peace. Sometimes the routines and sensory needs of household members are incompatible. …maybe do more sensory activities as a family. …more patience with my husband. Any tips on how to approach this situation?
Autism and Genetics:
Although there are a lot of theories and strong beliefs about the causes of autism, the fact remains that no one really knows for sure. Correlation studies (which show relationships only, not causes) note prenatal exposure to air pollution, maternal gestational diabetes, frequent ultrasounds, and so on as related to autism. There is some evidence that supports a strong genetic basis for autism. If a family has one autistic child, there is a 1 in 5 chance that they will have a second autistic child (NewYorkTimes). In twin studies, if one twin has autism there is a 90% change that the second twin will also be autistic (livescience.com).
Anecdotally, your observations about genetic aspects of autism are consistent with the experiences of other families. I asked a few different autism-related Facebook groups if they noticed autistic tendencies in themselves or the other parent once their children were diagnosed. I asked for families with more than one autistic child to respond. Thirty-one people responded on topic to this question. Of the 31 responders:
- 20 people mentioned that they noticed autism traits in themselves or the other parent.
- 5 people mentioned that they noticed traits in other family members (uncles, grandparents, etc.).
- 2 people mentioned that they did not have ASD, but did have related symptoms such as social anxiety or sensory processing differences.
- 3 people said they did not see any ASD traits in themselves or the other parent.
- 2 people mentioned a family history of autoimmune disorders.
Overall, 87% of individuals that responded noticed ASD traits in themselves or other family members. So, if you notice that you have a neuro-diverse family, you are not alone.
Autism Family Support Tips for Balancing Out Varying Needs
Balancing Sensory and Routine Needs of Different Family Members
Having one autistic child means establishing consistent routines and providing for sensory needs. Add in one or more additional autistic people in a household and it can become a lot more difficult to balance out differing needs, particularly when those needs are not compatible. The following suggestions come from my own experience and from ideas gained by surveying other families with multiple autistic members on Facebook.
Consider individual sensory and routine needs
The first step in finding balance is to evaluating the differing sensory and routine needs of each family member. Although you probably have a good general idea already, I would recommend writing it out on paper. Maybe I am just a visual person, but if I can see it written down, it helps me to organize the information. A family meeting would be an ideal way to gather the information and 1) ask each member what their needs are and 2) verify any needs you have previously observed.
One thing I have found helpful, particularly with my autistic children, is to explain sensory and routine differences of other family members by relating back to what that individual knows. For example, I have one child who is sensitive to smells. I have another child who is very particularly with clothing. I told child 1, “You know how you do not like some smells a lot? Similarly, your brother doesn’t like the feel of certain clothing. It really bothers him like some smells really bother you.” This really helped Child 1 understand Child 2.
I am a big Ross Greene fan and frequently recommend his book. CLICK HERE to read my review of The Explosive Child. Although Dr. Greene’s Collaborative and Proactive Solutions Model is designed to prevent explosive behavior, it is also an excellent general framework for communicating with others and working out solutions. You can use this framework to continue to gather information about the needs of family members.
You may want to continue to find out more details about individual needs based on your previous list. These interviews may be completed individually and over several days. The information gathering process may need to be revisited as problems arise and as needs change.
Next, work out solutions. For example, if one child is loud and needs a lot of proprioceptive input but another needs some quiet time and space, you may be able to schedule their needs at different times and/or different areas of the home. Routine type needs can hopefully be balanced with careful scheduling. Ideally, these solutions are worked out ahead of time, but realistically, it won’t always work out this way. If needs are incompatible in the moment, you may need to do some mediation to work out the differences.
Encourage self-regulation strategies
I am also a fan Amythest Shaber on YouTube. In the video attached below, Amythest explains the self-regulation purpose of stimming.
Try to provide a way for family members to meet sensory needs. Some of these may be easily met in the home or yard, others may require outings to a park or pool. Family activities can be designed to meet sensory needs.
Some autistic individuals (including my own children) have benefited from having their own space. In a larger home, separate rooms may be helpful. In smaller living spaces, this may not be possible. Instead, individual space must be carved out in more creative ways. These spaces can be designed with the sensory preferences of each individual in mind. Lighting, tactile, vestibular, and sound preferences can help create a sensory haven for the autistic individual.
Here are some possible ways to create an individual area:
- Create a fort by arranging furniture to partition off a small private area. Be sure to collaborate with family members on any changes as moving furniture may be upsetting to some members.
- Create a private area with curtains or a hoop canopy.
- Use a bed tent as a private area (my kids have been asking for these for a while now).
- Set up a closet space for downtime (my kids have done this own their own).
Autism Family Support Tips for Significant others with ASD traits:
Any relationship requires communication, but if you are in a relationship with an autistic you may need to change your expectations on communication and behavior. I asked for input from autistic adults and also neuro-typcial (NT) partners about what would help in a relationship. The following information is based on my own experience and the information I learned from responses to my question.
Adjust communication style
You may need to adjust your communication style to be compatible with autistic traits.
- Be literal, direct, and concrete in explaining what you want and why. Hints just won’t work.
- Avoid making assumptions about the intensions of the other person.
- Some autistic adults have found it helpful to communicate with their significant others through text messaging, particularly when emotions are strong.
Sensory and Routine Needs
Find out the schedule and routine needs of the partner. This may require careful communication and patience.
- Spontaneous activities may be stressful for some people and advanced planning/scheduling may help.
- Keep a consistent routine.
- Autistic adults may not be into holidays. …they are a change in routine. It may be helpful to work out a collaborative solution to balance out holiday expectations.
Yes, I would agree that extra patience would be helpful. It may also help to consciously stop expecting Neurotypical communication and behavior.
- One autistic adult mentioned that you have to have faith in how your significant other feels about you.
- Take time to understand how an autistic mind works.
- Amythest Shaber talks about the strain of passing as neurotypical. Sensory overload from social situations or spending a day working may be especially draining for an autistic significant other. Let them be themselves at home and do what they need for de-stressing.
Conclusion on Autism Family Support
In summary, if you have a neuro-diverse family with multiple autistic members, you may need to make some adjustments to meet the varying sensory and routine needs of each individual. A consistent routine, concrete explanations, literal communication, and collaborative problem solving can help provide autism family support.
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