Foster carers face challenges every day but, as with everything in life, understanding what is happening can make things a lot easier to deal with. Fostering a child with autism will present its own unique issues. For a start, autistic youngsters may appear to behave in an unusual manner. There will in all likelihood be two main reasons for this: firstly, such behaviour can be an attempt to communicate; secondly, it can be the means of trying to cope with a particular situation. When foster carers can understand the causes of challenging behaviour, it becomes easier to develop strategies for dealing with it. Fostering children with high needs does call for experience and resilience. Increasingly, this calls for foster carers who have been trained to provide therapeutic support. Children who are affected are said to have autism spectrum disorder known as ASD. This term covers a range of neurodevelopmental disorders. Both autism and Asperger syndrome are included. It’s worth being aware of some general points that can help with fostering a child or young person affected by autism.
If you are fostering a youngster with autism, the following are some useful points to help keep difficult behaviour to a minimum. It is also useful to attempt to identify the underlying reasons for the function or purpose of the behaviour. If you are fostering a child on the autistic spectrum, difficult behaviour can often seem as if it is just focused on you. This can especially seem the case if this is happening more at home than at school. It is very important to keep in mind that although you think it may just be you who is attracting this behaviour, it won’t only be you that is affecting the child’s day-to-day experience.
Try to identify the purpose behind certain behaviour. It’s useful to always remember that all behaviour has a purpose. Most often it is the primary means of communicating feelings and needs. Foster parents should try to make sure that behaviour is not being caused by a medical issue – or a dental one. This can be the case if a particular behaviour has flared up suddenly and become progressively more intense. It could be that a child or young person simply feels hungry, thirsty or uncomfortable. If the behaviour involves spitting, this could relate to a problem with swallowing or; as sometimes can be the case, the overproduction of saliva. Biting can be an indicator of mouth pain – such as an ulcer – or a dental problem. Autistic children will often engage in headbanging or ear slapping. This may be their way of dealing with discomfort. Foster parents should also realise that when children are older, aggression may be displayed which is associated with adolescent hormonal changes that are normal.
If this kind of behaviour persists, just as anyone caring for a child would do, make sure that a record is kept detailing when the behaviour started. This is useful when taking a child to the doctor or dentist. Fostering does mean taking notes when such situations arise. These should cover what time of day the behaviour is most prevalent. There should be information relating it to certain situations i.e. mealtimes if it becomes more exaggerated. When the behaviour starts and stops should also be noted. Once any medical or dental issues have been addressed and found not to be implicated, it is a good idea to keep behaviour diary. This should simply record dates, times and places where the behaviour of the child or young person deteriorated. It can be useful if other individuals around the child or young person also contribute – family members. Keeping a note as to what was occurring before and after the behaviour started, is also very valuable. A diary will help indicate if there are patterns or triggers causing behavioural issues. It also provides the basis upon which to reflect as to whether changes in routine – however small – might be causing problems.
It’s important to always remain patient – as well as realistic. Foster parents should be aware that behaviour is unlikely to change overnight. The diary will make it possible to track certain behaviours. It will also make it possible to notice small but positive changes. It’s important to keel a sense of realism. If setting goals, they should be achievable. Remember, it will be likely to be more productive if one or two types of behaviour are focused on. Adding more into the mix can make it difficult to develop strategies geared at addressing the underlying causes. Fostering means being resilient so foster parents should avoid becoming anxious if things seem to worsen before improving. What is advisable is to continue with the strategies that are being used. If, as a result of keeping a diary, set patterns of behaviour become clear, a behaviour plane can be implemented. What matters is that everyone involved behaves in a consistent manner with regard to the behaviour. It also helps to regularly discuss how strategies are working and if they need to be modified.
If you are fostering a child with autism, there will be times when their behaviour may be difficult to cope with. To recap: foster carers should be aware of the more common types of behaviour – these include:
stimming – this is a form of repetitive behaviour;
meltdowns – this is where there is a complete loss of control over behaviour.
The word stimming is an acronym that stands for ‘self-stimulating’ behaviour. Typical behaviours associated with this are – jumping, rocking, head-banging, hand-flapping, finger-flicking, the repetition of sounds, word or phrases and staring at spinning objects or lights. Foster carers should not be too concerned about stimming as it is mostly harmless – even though it may look odd. Unless it is causing problems for you or your child there is no actual need to stop it.
When a foster parent is confronted by a child having a meltdown, the most important thing is to remain calm and try to keep the child safe. The child will have completely lost control and be feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes it is just not possible to prevent an autistic child having a meltdown – but there are things that may help the situation. These include:
allowing the child to listen to calming music through headphones;
turning down or removing bright lights altogether;
making sure that if there are going to be changes in set routines – such as going to school – these are planned well in advance.
Some of the triggers that can cause these behaviours will include:
oversensitivity to loud noises;
oversensitivity to bright lights;
under-sensitivity to things such as pain or touch;
The sensory environment.
Fostering children – whether they have special needs or not – means paying attention to the environment they are in. Foster parents should be aware that those who are on the autism spectrum can experience problems processing everyday sensory information. Some autistic children may find it hard to filter out background noise. Too much visual stimulation can result in sensory overload. Some children may not be comfortable with certain foods. People with autism can be particularly sensitive to changes in their immediate environment that would be too subtle for the rest of us to be affected by. This is where the behaviour diary can be an invaluable tool for foster carers. If there has been a recent change to a child’s environment – however small – it can be identified as a possible trigger to changes in behaviour.
The identification of emotions.
Autistic people can often experience difficulty with abstract ideas such as emotional states. It can be helpful to turn these emotional responses into more fixed concepts. This can be done effectively through the use of stress scales. One very effective method is known as the ‘traffic light method’: green can mean ‘calm’ and red means ‘anger’. Or a scale of 1 to 15 can be used to present emotional states as colours or just numbers. Such techniques can help a person to identify when they are becoming emotional. This can enable them to do try to become calmer, remove themselves from a particular situation or a foster carer can directly intervene to gain control of a situation.
Foster caring means supporting effective communication.
It can often be particularly frustrating for people with autism to communicate. Failing to make themselves understood can cause changes in behaviour. They may not understand what is being asked of them and this can be exacerbated because they have problems deciphering facial or body language. When this happens, they can quickly become frustrated and anxious. Some youngsters with autism can speak fluently but this is lost if they start to experience levels of anxiety. If you are a foster parent who finds themselves in this situation with an autistic child, one of the best things you can do is to speak very clearly. And only use short sentences. By effectively limiting your communication, any feelings of being overloaded can be reduced. Doing this makes it much more likely what you are saying will be understood. Some autistic people will find it easier to communicate using stress scales as they find it easier to deal with visual information.
Find out more about autism at https://www.autism.org.uk
Fostering with Rainbow starts with a simple phone call.
One of the members of our recruitment team will be in touch with you if you complete the application form on our website. If you prefer, ring us direct – our Head Office can be reached on 020 8427 3355. Many people use or National Fostering Line 0330 311 2845 if our Head Office number is busy. Our job is always to provide initial guidance followed by support whatever type of fostering you are interested in finding out about. All our foster carers will have had to complete the three day ‘Skills to Foster’ course following their application. The purpose of this introductory course is to help people decide if fostering really is for them. When our foster carers are approved, we expect them to take full advantage of all the training courses we offer. These can be in specialist areas such as therapeutic fostering. Anyone considering fostering a child with autism will need to receive training. Again, we expect our foster carers to attend the training we provide. It’s a great way of building knowledge and experience which means you can receive enhanced payments. Our view is that confident foster carers make for confident children and teenagers.
All our foster parents have access to committed experts in the field of foster care. This will include a supervising social worker – as well as the team at Rainbow. When fostering with Rainbow, you will receive a generous allowance.
There are fostering career opportunities in London, Birmingham and Manchester.
We have offices in these three cities and would welcome anyone wanting to find out more about a career in fostering, to simply make an appointment and come in for a chat. Our recruitment team are a friendly bunch – all passionate about the business of finding vulnerable – often desperate children – loving homes. We want to find people who are really motivated and keen to find out more about fostering. We set high standards because we know children rely on us to provide them with dedicated and committed foster carers. Knowledge building is key to becoming an effective foster carer. our website is full of information relating to foster care. We advise all fostering applicants to take a look at it because then they will be better prepared for a conversation with us. Some of the most relevant pages at this stage are:
Rainbow at The Autism Show 2019.
If you are inspired by the challenge of looking after a foster child who has autism, you can come along and meet with our recruitment team at this year’s Autism Show being held at ExCel in London on the 14th – 15th June. This will be a great way to find out a lot more about autism as well as fostering a child with ASD. It will be an opportunity to hear from the UK’s leading autism professionals. If you are already a foster parent looking after a child with autism, there will plenty of opportunities to learn new strategies and approaches as well as accessing one-to-one specialist advice. Looking forward to seeing you there!