Here are top autism tips for foster carers. Moving into foster care can be difficult for any child, more so if they are autistic. Understanding is key to providing effective care and support
Autism Tips for Foster Carers #1: Understand Behaviour in the Context of Autism
Autistic children have a different neurology to non autistic children, and this needs to be understood and accepted. They may communicate in different ways, have different likes and dislikes and find everyday non autistic actions and interactions distressing.
You can’t try and problem solve behaviour issues in autistic children by using a non autistic ‘blue print’ in your thinking. Autistic children perceive, process and respond to information differently, and in order to troubleshoot emotional or behaviour problems, you need to take this into account. Let’s take an example:
Each day, on returning from school, Callum goes to his room and shuts the door. His foster carer, Diane is worried about this behaviour and each day follows him to his room and tries to persuade him to come downstairs. She has tried everything, trying to find out how he is feeling, asking him about his day and offering different activity options. Callum responds by hiding under his quilt, or under the bed and will not engage with Diane. On a few occasions he has shouted at Diane, she is lost and doing her best to try and help him.
Here Diane is trying to help Callum through a non autistic ‘blue print’. She is trying to empathise with him as if he is non autistic, and this guides her responses.
Callum is actually cognitively exhausted from his interactions at school, and needs time alone to ‘decompress’ from this. He is not escaping to his room because he is unhappy, or doesn’t like Diane or because he is making a point. He just wants some space.
Understand behaviour in the context of autism, and use this understanding to attempt to troubleshoot the difficulties the child is experiencing..
Autism Tips for Foster Carers #2: Respond to Behaviour in the Context of Autism
Just as understanding the child in the context of autism is important, so is responding in the context of autism.
Social praise, problem solving and emotional counselling are non autistic responses, but often cause more distress for autistic children.
In the above example:
Diane is actually causing more distress for Callum. He wants time alone, by Diane entering his room she is invading his ‘safe space’. Having a space that is comforting and predictable is important to Callum. Again, through her non autistic ‘blue print’ she tries to comfort problem solve or distract Callum. Although well intentioned, her interactions are disturbing his relaxation. They are also long and confusing. These interactions actually send Callum into shutdown or meltdown. He is overwhelmed and can’t communicate his wish to be left alone. What started as a need to spend an hour alone in his room has now escalated to distress that will take Callum much longer overcome. Diane is also upset, because she wants to do the best for Callum but can’t work out how.
Ensure your responses, interactions and communication are adapted to take autism into account
Autism Tips for Foster Carers #3: Work With Strengths
With a description that often includes phrases like “impairments in…” or “difficulties with…” it is easy to miss the strengths that autistic children have. By focussing attention on difficulties, and trying to change them, both the child and carer become frustrated and distressed. On the flip side of every difficulty, there is a strength to be found. Look for the strengths and work with them, to make life easier for all.
Lets return to our example:
Instead of viewing Callum’s need to go to his room as a difficulty (i.e. “can’t cope with school”), view it as a strength (Callum “has good coping strategies to help him manage his school day”). By viewing this a strength, we are more likely to support and nurture it, instead of trying to fix it or take it away. This strength can be used to help with other situations. Identifying a safe space and providing Callum with a ‘time out card’ to leave when needed will help Callum continue to use his coping strategy when in meetings. This will stop him entering meltdowns from being overwhelmed.
Nurture strengths and use them to overcome difficulties
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