Practical tips to get started

Focusing on positive coping strategies is a way for many parents to start helping their child after a diagnosis of autism. The following suggestions are ways that parents can get started. Some of these will be easier to tackle than others – remember to focus on what you need, what your child needs and what is important for your whole family.

Be the expert about your child

Getting to know your child’s strengths and challenges means that you will be in a great position to advocate for what he or she needs. This is particularly useful when talking to teachers or therapists. A simple way to start this process is using the Planning Matrix developed by Positive Partnerships. Start by thinking about the characteristics your child shows in different areas – communication, social interaction, behaviours and interests, sensory differences and learning style. Then try to consider what impact these characteristics have on your child. For example, a child with difficulties understanding long instructions (a characteristic), might become anxious or non-compliant when there is too much talk (an impact or implication of the characteristic). It is then easier to see what might be helpful for your child in everyday situations (e.g. reduce the amount of talking directed towards your child or use visual supports to help them understand). Remember to include your child’s strengths and interests!  View more information about completing a matrix.

A simpler form of the matrix is the storyboard – an animation showing the way one family worked on completing it.

Develop partnerships with schools and other services

Developing a partnership with your school or preschool is an important part of the journey of supporting your child. While sharing the diagnosis of autism is a personal decision, the advantage of talking about a new diagnosis with your child’s school or preschool is that in many cases, there are established supports that can be activated when a diagnosis is made. In other cases, having a diagnosis means that teachers and other school staff will have a better idea of strategies that might help, based on what has worked with other children on the autism spectrum in their school or preschool.

Some tips that might help developing a partnership with your school include:

  • Ask your teacher and/or other school staff to arrange a time for a meeting – it will be better if you have the teacher’s whole attention, rather than trying to talk about this in the classroom or at the busy start or end of the day.
  • Take along a Planning Matrix that you have completed, or work together with the staff to complete it – this can help give your discussion a focus about what the main issues are and strategies to help at home and school.
  • Take along reports and other information about your child from Speech Pathologists, doctors or Psychologists. It can be really helpful to share information from a range of sources.
  • Bring a support person with you. It can be helpful to have someone else around to take notes and listen objectively to all that is said.
  • Write minutes or ask someone else to note down what is said. Aim to have a few actions by the end of the meeting that everyone is clear about.
  • Get to know what services and interventions might be helpful to your child. A quick guide to the different professionals. Questions to think about when choosing interventions.

 Financial matters

 There are some financial supports that are available to Australian children with a diagnosis of autism. Some of these supports depend on age. The main supports to investigate include:

  • Carers’ allowance – this is administered by Centrelink and provides eligible families with some money each fortnight for carers who provide additional daily care and attention for someone with a disability or medical condition. This might be used to access intervention, pay for transport to services or to help provide baby-sitting or respite. Families should contact their local Centrelink office for more details.
  • Early intervention Services (part of the Helping Children with Autism package) – this is a federally funded program that provides support to parents to pay for early intervention services for children up to age 7 on the autism spectrum. Parents of young children on the autism spectrum can register with the Autism Advisor Program in their state.
  • Medicare items (general) – people with chronic conditions, such as autism, are eligible for Medicare rebated sessions with allied health workers, such as Speech Pathologists and Occupational Therapists. Families can ask their GP (family doctor) about accessing the ‘Chronic Disease Management Items’ (5 sessions) and the ‘Better Access to Mental Health’ (up to 10 sessions with a psychologist and/or occupational therapist).
  • Medicare items (autism) – as part of the Helping Children with Autism package, children with autism can access up to 20 extra sessions with allied health professionals (Speech Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, Psychologists). These can be activated by your child’s paediatrician or psychiatrist.  

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) provides individualised support for eligible people with a disability and their families. It is currently being progressively rolled out across Australia. For more information on the NDIS and to see if your child would be eligible for funding go to www.ndis.gov.au. There is also an NDIS fact sheet on the Positive Partnerships website.