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Ways foster carers can support autistic children

Foster carers who take on the care of an autistic child face unique challenges but also have an opportunity to make a significant impact on the child’s life. Here are 10 ways to support a young person with autism.

March 24 2023 - 4 min read

What is autism?

Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC), also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects communication, social interaction, and behaviour. It’s characterised by a range of symptoms that can vary in intensity and prevalence, which is why it’s a "spectrum" condition.

The core features of ASC include difficulty with social interaction, such as making eye contact, sharing emotions, and understanding nonverbal communication. Autistic people often have difficulty with language development, both in terms of expression and understanding. Repetitive and restrictive behaviours (RRBs), such as hand flapping or lining up objects, as well as rigid routines or fixations on certain interests are also common traits of autism.

While these symptoms are shared amongst individuals with ASC, they manifest in different ways, leading to great variability in how autism presents itself in different people. Some autistic individuals may have exceptional abilities in specific areas, such as math, music, or visual thinking, while others may struggle with basic daily activities.

From processing sensory information to interpreting speech and language, autistic people see and experience the world differently to neurotypical people. But, with early diagnosis and intervention, and the right level of support, they can lead happy, fulfilling and successful lives.

As a foster carer, it’s important to recognise that every autistic individual is unique, with their own strengths, challenges, and ways of interacting with the world. By understanding and accepting these differences, and with support from us here at FCA Scotland, you can create an inclusive and supportive environment.

10 ways to help an autistic child

Caring for an autistic young person who has experienced hardship in their early life will naturally come with challenges, but by putting the right measures in place and understanding their needs, you can help them thrive. Here are some proven methods for supporting a child with autism.

Create a structured environment

Children with autism tend to thrive in structured environments that have clear routines and schedules. Foster carers can help create this structure by setting clear rules and boundaries, creating a predictable daily routine, and providing a calm and stable environment. Consider things like eating meals at the same time, having set dinners on specific days, taking the same route to school and having a certain spot in the house where activities always take place.

Build trust

Building trust with an autistic foster child can take time, but it is crucial for the child's wellbeing. You can build trust by being consistent, reliable, and responsive to the child's needs. This means following through on commitments, providing positive reinforcement, and being patient and supportive. Always go at their pace and try to read their cues that could indicate they’re comfortable with trying something new, as they might not always be able to express it.

Develop communication skills

Many children with autism struggle with communication, and foster carers play a vital role in helping them develop their communication skills. This could involve using simple and clear language, using visual aids like cue cards, and providing opportunities for the child to practice their communication skills in a safe and supportive environment. A useful tip is to always use concrete language that can’t be misinterpreted, so for example, avoid saying phrases like ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’, and be clear and directional with any commands.

Provide sensory support

Many autistic children have hypersensitivity, which is where a person is over or under stimulated by sensory information. This is why having a sensory-friendly environment is incredibly important when an autistic child comes into your care. This can involve providing sensory toys, creating a quiet space for the child to retreat to, and minimising sensory input that may be overwhelming, such as bright lights or loud noises. You should also take time to observe them and try to spot patterns in behaviour that could be linked to sensory triggers. For example, a ticking clock could be very distressing, or they might find it difficult to cope when more than one person in the room is talking. The more you’re aware of what sensory input overwhelms them, the more you can do to make their environment a comfortable one.

Use positive reinforcement

Children with autism often respond well to positive reinforcement. Foster carers can use positive reinforcement to encourage the child to engage in positive behaviours, such as completing a task or using their words to communicate. This can involve providing praise, rewards, or other forms of positive feedback.

Understand behaviours

Foster carers should be prepared to understand and manage challenging behaviours that can arise when looking after an autistic child. Children with autism may struggle with self-regulation and may engage in behaviours such as extreme tantrums (also known as autistic meltdowns) and self-injury when they are overwhelmed or unable to communicate their needs. You can help manage these behaviours by providing a calm and supportive environment, identifying triggers that may lead to challenging behaviours, and implementing strategies to prevent or de-escalate an autistic meltdown

Advocate for services

Foster carers also play a crucial role in advocating for services and support for autistic foster children. When you become a foster carer with FCA Scotland, you’ll have a team of childcare professionals around you, including therapists and a dedicated supervising social worker, to ensure the young person in your care has access to all the right services and support.

Build a support network

Foster carers need to look after themselves too, which is why building a support network is crucial when caring for a young autistic person. Being a foster carer with FCA Scotland allows you to connect with other caregivers who have experience caring for children with autism, and this is great for knowledge sharing or seeking advice. A personal support system also includes family, friends and people in your local community that can assist you or simply be there for you when you need to talk things through.

Provide opportunities for socialisation

Many children with autism struggle with socialisation and can benefit from opportunities to interact with other youngsters in a supportive and structured environment. Foster carers can provide these opportunities by enrolling the child in social skills groups, meeting members of the wider family or other activities that encourage socialisation and positive interactions with others.

Understand and respect the child’s unique needs

Finally, foster carers should understand and respect the unique needs of their foster child. Every child with autism is different, and it’s important to be prepared to adapt their care to meet their specific needs. This means being flexible, patient, and open to learning and growing as a caregiver. Alongside mandatory training, we also have additional training courses for carers to continually learn and expand their knowledge around specialist topics like child development, autism and managing challenging behaviour.

Fostering a child with autism

At FCA Scotland, we need more foster carers to come forward and open up their hearts and homes to autistic youth. Some of these children will have experienced neglect or abuse, potentially even because of their autism, while others may have parents that aren’t in a position to or aren’t capable of meeting their unique needs. These children desperately need stability and support.

When you do specialist fostering, we completely understand the level of work and commitment it takes. That’s why at FCA Scotland, we take a therapeutic approach with our Team Parenting® model. As a caregiver to a child with ASC, you’ll get dedicated support and first-class training to give you all the skills and knowledge you need to foster therapeutically. This approach to foster care also means you’ll have therapy services, support workers and childcare specialists on hand whenever you and your young person need them.

Get in touch with our friendly team today to find out more about how you could help change a child’s life through fostering. Use our online enquiry form or give us a call on 0141 646 4805 and we’ll be glad to answer any questions you have. You can also download our Autism Support Pack for Foster Parents to for ASC tips, tools and resources.

foster children smiling

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