Welcoming a new baby can be an exciting time for all involved. There can be a lot to do and a lot involved but one thing that shouldn’t be put off is preparing your other children. Adjusting to a new sibling can be difficult for any child. However, if you have a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) it can be especially challenging.
If you’re expecting another child through pregnancy, adoption, or foster care, there are some things you can do to help the older sibling understand and adjust. We’ve done our research and consulted the experts on how to introduce a new baby to your autistic child. Keep reading on to find out what we learned.
Understanding the Challenges for Your Autistic Child
The first thing that needs to be considered is the unique challenges a new baby presents to your autistic child. The main three things that should be focused on since they can be challenges for ASD children are communication, managing change, and sensory consideration (Surrey Place Centre, 2016).
Many autistic children struggle with communication. Therefore, it can be difficult for them to ask questions they might be curious about. They may also have trouble understanding what is being told to them about the pregnancy and birthing process.
Change can be a struggle for many of us but autistic children can take it especially hard. Changes of any kind, both big and small, are hard for ASD children. With a new baby comes a lot of change. Therefore, proper preparation and consideration are needed to help your child adjust.
Finally, sensory considerations can be a big hurdle when introducing a new baby to your autistic child. Every child with ASD is different but often things like sounds and scents can be a trigger. Some children may seek out this sensory input while others may very sensitive to it.
In order to meet these challenges, it’s important for both you and your autistic child to be prepared and ready together. Continue on for the best tips and practices to help introduce a new baby to your autistic child.
How to Introduce a New Baby to Your Autistic Child
In order to be ready for the challenges ahead, the best thing you can do is prepare. Use the tips below to help your child understand what is coming and what you can do to plan ahead.
Communication is Key
Since communication can be challenging for ASD children, it’s essential that you work to forge effective messages. The first recommendation is to use the proper terminology when referring to your pregnancy (Wang, 2013). If your child is more verbal they may be able to ask questions on their own. If not, it’s a good idea to start talking about the pregnancy earlier on with proper terms.
The reason for this is your child likely already associates words like ‘stomach’ or ‘tummy’ with eating and food. Therefore, it can be confusing when you tell them a baby is growing in your tummy. Instead, tell them there is a baby growing in your uterus and you will use your muscles to help push it out.
Another recommendation is to choose a name as early as possible and use it (Autistic Mama, 2015). Autistic children can struggle with abstract concepts which includes what a baby is. By giving the baby a name early on and using it, your child will associate the baby with a person which gives them a better understanding of the concept.
Even though your ASD child might have questions, they may be unable to verbalize them. You can help anticipate these questions and answer them by using books, TV shows, and movies about babies. Pictures and simple storybooks about the pregnancy, how the baby will be born, and life at home after the baby arrives can be extremely helpful.
“Baby on the Way” by William Sears, MD, Martha Sears, RN, and Christie Watts Kelly and “The New Baby at Your House” by Joanna Cole are highly recommended (Wang, 2013).
Make Major Changes Before the Baby is Born
Change can be difficult for anyone but especially challenging for ASD children. Since the arrival of a new baby can come with a lot of change, it’s recommended you do as much as you can before the baby arrives (Surrey Place Centre, 2016). Make a list of any changes you can think of. Then, work to start them as soon as possible or at least 2 months before the new baby arrives.
For example, if your child will need to move to a new bed or another room, you do it as soon as you can. Make it a positive experience for your child and one they can be an active participant in. While other changes such as a change in school routine or daycare should be done at least 2 months before the baby arrives.
Plan for Alternate Caregivers
If your child is very attached to you, it can be difficult for them to deal with you being away. This can be especially hard if they aren’t familiar with the people taking care of them. Plan ahead for alternate caregivers such as for when you’re in the hospital or time after the baby arrives (Surrey Place Centre, 2016). Take your child to visit grandparents or other family members who might be helping out afterward. By getting your child more familiar with them and their environment now, it will be easier for them with the day comes.
Introduce the Idea of Babies to Your Child
There are several different recommended ways of introducing the idea of babies to your child. Previously we suggested books and TV shows, which is a great start. This would be considered the next step. The first way to do this is to visit a friend or family member that has a baby (Center for Autism Research, 2016).
Not only will this introduce the concept of babies but you’ll also be able to gauge how your child reacts. Check to see if they are sensitive to the noise, crying, or scents of a dirty diaper. Having this information can help you be prepared for the future.
Another recommendation is to get your child an anatomically correct baby doll (Wang, 2013). This is usually the type of doll used for childbirth education classes. Giving your autistic child a baby doll can help them get used to the size and appearance of a baby. After the baby is born, they may also like to mirror your behavior like changing their doll’s diaper when you change the baby’s diaper.
Having a new baby can be a major adjustment. However, by following these recommendations for introducing a new baby to your autistic child, you can help prepare yourself and your child for success.
Autistic Mama. (2015). 4 Super Helpful Tips to Prepare Your Autistic Child for a New Baby. Retrieved from Autistic Mama: https://autisticmama.com/special-needs-baby-coming/
Center for Autism Research. (2016). Birth of a Baby. Retrieved from Center for Autism Research: https://www.carautismroadmap.org/birth-of-a-baby/
Surrey Place Centre. (2016, February). Helping your Child with ASD Adjust to New Siblings. Retrieved from Surrey Place Centre: https://www.surreyplace.ca/documents/Resources/autism/Parent-Resource-Before-Birth.pdf
Wang, K. (2013, February 27). How To Prepare Your Special Needs Child For The New Baby. Retrieved from Friendship Circle: https://www.friendshipcircle.org/blog/2013/02/27/how-to-prepare-your-special-needs-child-for-the-new-baby/