Actress and Autism Activist Holly Robinson Peete’s Tips for Raising a Child with Autism
April is National Autism Awareness Month. Since one in 68 children are diagnosed with Autism every year, chances are you know at least one of them. For the millions of people living with autism and their families, daily routines like brushing your teeth or doing ordinary tasks like going to the playground or grocery stores can be a challenge.
In honor of Autism Awareness Month, Colgate partnered with actress and Autism activist Holly Robinson Peete, whose son RJ was diagnosed at a young age. She has since been a passionate voice around spreading education and awareness to families around the world. Holly is a big fan of a new step-by-step visual app called Magnus Cards, a free app that provides instructions for life skills to let those with autism know what to expect when it comes to daily tasks. Holly believes that such apps can empower individuals with autism and their caregivers and make life a little easier.
“Since my son RJ was diagnosed with autism, I’ve been passionate about increasing awareness and providing support to the community by sharing my experience and resources for other families like ours,” says Holly.
Check out Holly’s helpful tips she uses with her own family to share with other parents and children:
Discuss Plans Ahead of Time – Every day can be filled with new experiences, which can sometimes be overwhelming for our kids. A daily schedule of activities shared in advance can help him or her understand what the day will look like. Of course, plans – and weather – can always change, so it’s important to provide a backup plan too. For example, I may say, “We’re going to the pool today at noon, but if it rains, we’ll go to the movies instead.”
Maintain a Schedule – Routines are important to all children, but especially for those living with autism. On weekends or in those lazy summer days, it can feel tempting to be a little more lenient, but maintaining the basic structure your child’s typical school day helps. When Holly's son RJ was growing up, she would encourage him to wake up at the same time and keep his regular morning routine. Easy step-by-step guides make it easier to master important everyday skills from brushing teeth to making the bed.
Do Activities Together – A family is a unit and needs to work together to thrive. That’s why Holly loves doing activities that are not just exciting for her son RJ, but benefit the entire family. Her favorite family activity is to go to the beach and literally just sit on the beach – it relaxes everybody. The sounds of the ocean and watching the waves are relaxing for everyone. Holly taught her son how to swim a very early age so that she wouldn’t stress so much around water.
Focus on the Positive – Children with autism respond well to praise for good behavior. (Don’t we all?!). When Holly's sone RJ was growing up, she would always be sure to applaud him when he learned a new skill or did something well. The key is to be specific about what exactly was great about the behavior and to provide a little reward. Anytime RJ would make eye contact with Holly or her husband was a great moment. Many parents take eye contact for granted, but it is something that can be difficult for children with autism to do. It’s very hard to describe what it’s like when your child is unable to look at you. You don’t make the connection you need to make, which can be painful and frustrating for not just for the parent, but the child as well. Whenever RJ would make extended eye contact, they would make sure he got his favorite pizza or the chance to jump longer on his trampoline. These are small wins but huge for an autism family!