11 of the Most Valuable Pieces of Advice for Parenting a Child with Autism

By: Beth Vaughan

For those of you who have done any research on the subject, you recognize that there is a difference between “Autism Awareness” and “Autism Acceptance”.

autism_speaksheal-foundation-logoAutism Awareness is a perspective expressed by Autism Speaks and the HEAL Foundation. They are often the first resources identified when the research for autism and services first begins, providing an enormous amount of useful information, facts.  The list below will focus on these Autism Awareness voices, wherein the most advice has been accepted by many.

Autism Acceptance, or Autism Positivity, is the idea that Autism is a universal part of your person; the way you are “wired”. There is no “off” switch for it, it cannot be taken away with medication, and it certainly should never be regarded as an illness. Autism is part of the individual’s identity.

There are many perspectives, and below is a list of 11 key concepts for parenting a child on the spectrum as told from one parent’s perspective. This particular mother spent thousands of hours researching and learning how to validate parenting “off the map” and shared her best pieces of parenting advice.

  1. “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” – Stephen Covey
  2. Take advice from adults on the autism spectrum.
  3. Read The Autism Discussion Page run by Bill Nason. He is compassionate and clear. I share his writings with my son’s teachers.
  4. Learn the Token Management Theory. It is easier than it sounds. It does not require real tokens or charts. This helps us prevent meltdowns.
  5. Introduce your child to Autistic Role Models. This was hard at first, we had to find people online or read children’s books.
  6. We read stories about Joey Hudy and we practiced science experiments from Mad Science, a boy on the spectrum who loves science too. In 2nd Grade Brady led some science experiments in class acting like Dr. Brady and he decorated his bedroom to look like Jacob Barnett’s bedroom and wore a hoodie and a baseball cap backwards like Jacob for a while.
  7. Remember that “All progress occurs through area of interest”. My son had strong interests that I used to draw him out. This is also called “Affinity Theory” and Ron Suskind has an interesting book about how his son was able to make connection using his passion for Disney.
  8. Constantly challenge your child’s comfort level.
  9. Cognitive Therapy is recommended for kids on the spectrum. The kind we use is based on the work of  Abraham A Low in his book, Mental Health Through Will Training.  These techniques are a foundation of our parenting both of our children.
  10. Learn about how play develops; learn about instrument play v. relationship building play—I remember reading about his in a child development textbook. Learn about pragmatics and expressive language. If you understand the mechanics of play, social expression and these child development milestones that most kids acquire intuitively you will be able to articulate what you are trying to teach your child. If your child does not learn from watching other people (social blindness) then you have to find another way to make that connection.
  11. The idea of narrative psychology. Read: “This is Your Life and How We Tell it” We use this idea to build a positive story to help him grow confidence. This is not the same as a social story, it is a narrative. It helps me offset undermining remarks about autism. For example:”Autistic Children don’t like PE.” No doubt this is true—but that attitude can turn the child off from activities altogether. An ongoing positive narrative within the home that supports the idea that he loves and excels at sports.  Sometimes I think of the famous Theodore Roosevelt quote about “the Man in the Arena” and Autism has such a strong stigma about what you do/are/like/can be, that I need to fight that in the home.


It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. –Theodore Roosevelt (THE MAN IN THE ARENA)