Fostering an autistic child can be a rewarding experience, but it does come with challenges, especially as change can be a trigger for difficult behaviour. The key attribute for foster parents of children with ASD is patience. Be empathetic to their situation and be resilient.
Children are often confused and scared when moving into a new home environment, and they may also feel anger and resentment towards being taken away from their birth family. For foster children with ASD, this sudden change and unknown environment is likely to be extremely distressing. So it is important to be able to provide the high levels of care and attention required by those with special needs.
Who can foster children with ASD?
You don’t need experience of autism spectrum disorder to foster a child with ASD. However there are certain transferrable skills which are highly beneficial, such as empathy, kindness, patience, resilience and being thick-skinned. It’s also important to be able to commit time to caring for a child with additional needs. Considering the impact a child with autism may have on your family, especially if you have birth children is also a priority.
Tips for fostering a child with autism
Set up a sensory space in the home
Hypersensitivity in autism is being over or under stimulated by sensory triggers. Children with ASD tend to be hypersensitive to sensory stimulation like sounds, textures, smells and lights, so a sensory space – usually the bedroom – is a good way to help them relax when they’re feeling overwhelmed.
Find out what colours and textures they find soothing to make their room a haven. Loud or small background noises can also be severely distressing, so turn off radios and TVs when not in use.
Identify triggers and minimise their effect
Sensory triggers can upset your autistic foster child, so by learning what they are you can limit their exposure. It’s not always possible to completely eliminate such stimuli,, so work with the child to develop coping strategies, such as a sensory safe space mentioned above, or carrying a distractor toy like a stress ball or rubber band.
Keep to a routine
People with ASD find comfort and reassurance in consistency, so routine is key when it comes to fostering autistic children. This means foster parents should make sure the household operates like clockwork. This could be ensuring meals are served at the same times, activities happen at the same table and the school run takes the same route.
Ensure any changes to routine are planned well in advanced
Breaks to routine can be extremely upsetting for autistic children, so anything out of the ordinary should be planned well in advance and communicated as soon as possible. Try to build up exposure to the change gradually,by making small, incremental changes.
Help to express emotions with the traffic light technique
Autistic children may struggle to understand abstract concepts like emotions, so one way to help them is to turn it into something concrete. Give them green, amber and red cards to use to communicate how they’re feeling. This will also help you prepare for when they’re feeling emotional so you can put measures in place to support them.
Make use of support groups and training
Remember that you’re never alone in your fostering journey, and there will be people to talk to when the going gets tough. Access support groups where you can learn new skills, share experiences and help each other solve problems.
Identify organisations which provide specialist training to obtain the right knowledge and skills to look after a child with disabilities.