6 Reasons Why Parents Need to Get Kids with Autism Out of the House More Often

Does the thought of bringing your child with autism to visit friends, go to the grocery store, library or a restaurant make you cringe? Do you find it easier for everyone  invloved if the child just stays home?

If so, you aren’t alone.

Parents too often forego visiting friends and family because the stress of breaking the routine of a child with autism and bringing that child into unfamiliar territory is just too much to bear. The thought of enduring the stares or snarky comments of others when your child is in the throes of a very public meltdown would make anyone choose to protect the child at home.

Life at home with a child or teen with autism is never easy. The demands of everyday daily life can are complicated by the needs and unpredictability of autism. Changes in routine, unexpected ‘surprises’, difficulties with food, toileting and dressing and meltdowns disrupt the whole family. . It's not surprising that given a choice, parents would opt to have their kids stay home as often as possible.

But, is having your child stay home best for your child?

Perhaps occasionally it is. But the harsh reality is that your child needs regular opportunities to actively engage in the life of a community beyond the home and the classroom.

I hear you groaning. I have been in your shoes – it is anxiety provoking to even think of how draining this proposition will be. 

Hear me out please.

Over twenty years in autism both personally (parent) and professionally (autism teacher) has taught me that our children with autism desperately need the opportunity to experience new sights and sounds to build their brains - literally build their brains.

Every single time that a child engages in the world beyond the home , they are opened to sights, sounds, interactions, and experiences that are different from home. Very different. Research has proven that neurons in the brain get 'excited' by new experiences and with the support of compassionate and  growth minded adults our kids' brains 'grow' by building new pathways.

A grocery store or visit to a park may see pretty mundane to you but to a young person (especially one with autism) these are experiences that light up the brain like a Christmas tree!  Riding in an automobile, bus, train or airplane stimulates far more learning than you can imagine! Add to that the myriad of social interactions that happen within an outing away of the house and we have a garden ripe for growth!

Dr. Barry Prizant, a clinical scholar, consultant, and researcher who has over 40 years’ experience as program consultant to children and older persons with autism makes it clear that, "The children who progress the most, who develop to their fullest potential, are those who are exposed to a wide variety of experiences." 

Need more convincing?  

Here are 6 key reasons that your child with autism needs experiences in the world outside of the home regularly. 

Actively engaging in the community -

Builds the background knowledge and concepts that will help a child to make sense of their world and improve academic learning.

Provides real life social communication experience - children can’t practice social skills while sitting in front of a Disney movie. Dr Prizant says it best: “The most important therapy is social communication and active engagement.”

Provides real time practice in self regulation (once the skills are taught). We can’t learn how to manage our senses or our fears if we are safely kept away from things that may bother or scare us.

Develops a sense of self -confidence, self -esteem and self -agency by experiencing positive ventures and  with the help of compassionate adults, la child learns that mistakes are not permanent – we can fall down, get back up and persist. Over protected kids grow up feeling helpless, overwhelmed and without agency.

Being out in the world is the best way to learn that the world is larger than themselves and they are expected to contribute to the highest degree possible with in the functioning of the family, school, and community.

Bluntly put, exposing our children to life outside of the home requires MORE of us as parents and caregivers. When we raise our expectations of our children it often takes more planning, more time, more patience, and more self- control on our part. Keeping our kids home is all too often the easy way out .

Learning is never comfortable. It happens in real time in everyday life.

Our kids with autism desperately need to be out in the community. Take your child to church, the grocery store, to movies, museums, and zoos. Kids with autism NEED to be meaningfully participating in field trips, on teams, and in clubs - not all the time, and not every activity - find a balance that works for your child. 

One last word of advice -we can’t “throw” the child into the midst of social situations and hope they can cope. We need to plan and prepare to give them the tools that they need to be successful.

How do we do that?

Make sure you are on the list! Don't miss the answer in the upcoming article –

Planning for Success: Supporting Kids with Autism During Outings

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