Six Parenting Styles To Avoid When Raising a Child with Autism

Some parenting styles create more problems than they solve!

Child cute little girl and mother holding hand together

There are many good ways to parent a child with autism. And quite a few not-so-terrific ways. When you have a special needs child, it's not always best to just go with what feels natural. You may need to modify your parenting style to suit your child's particular challenges and strengths. All that said, here are six common parenting styles it's best to avoid when raising a child on the autism spectrum.

Helicopter Parenting

Helicopter parents hover over their children, watching and reacting to their every move. They leap in to help when a problem appears on the horizon; they intervene to smooth every path; they insist on special treatment for their progeny. Helicopter parenting is less than ideal for any child, as it makes independence and self-determination especially difficult to achieve. Parents of children with autism are prone to helicopter parenting, because they worry that their child with autism will run into problems they can't resolve -- and, of course, that's perfectly possible. But if helicopter parenting stunts the development of typical children, imagine what it does for children with autism. Unable to learn by observation and example, children with autism must learn through direct instruction -- and by doing. When you step in to do their work, you're denying your child the opportunity to understand what's needed, or to experience the challenge of trying, the thrill of success, or the learning involved in failure.

Competitive Parenting

Any mother who's been part of a Mommy and Me group knows all about competitive parenting. Whose baby potty trained first? Said the first word? Is taking the most classes, learning to dance or sing, playing peewee soccer, or studying Chinese? When you have a child with autism, it can be hard to avoid feeling that your child is being left behind.

When you buy into competitive parenting, you are certain to develop a sense that your child is not up to par -- and that you, as a parent, are probably to blame. As you can imagine, the outcome is a feeling that neither you nor your child is good enough. The impact of such feelings on a child with autism may not be obvious, but they are real.

Hands-Off Parenting

Some parents believe that their child should be allowed to follow his own pursuits and interests without parental interference. That works well for certain typical children who are self-directed, self-motivated, and eager to interact with with others. It's not, however, a very good choice for parenting a child with autism. While every child certainly needs and deserves "down" time, children with autism really do need parental engagement. That's because, in most cases, children with autism need your help to actively learn to pretend, socialize, converse, ask questions, and investigate the world. Without another person to help them build these critical skills, children with autism can become increasingly withdrawn and self-focused -- and less capable or desirous of engaging in the wider world.

Perfectionist (Tiger) Parenting

Yes, some children thrive with parents who absolutely insist upon straight A's, top athletic performance, perfect grammar, and ideal table manners.

Those children are unlikely to be autistic. The reality is that children with autism, while they may have many strengths, are likely to have a very tough time with many typical childhood expectations. Their verbal skills may be compromised, making high grades and perfect grammar almost impossible to achieve. They may have difficulty with physical coordination, making athletics particularly tough. Of course, it's important to have high expectations -- but make those expectations too high, and you and your child are in for tears and frustration.

Permissive Parenting

As the parent of a child with special needs, you may feel that your child deserves a break -- 100% of the time.

How could you possibly expect a child with autism to set the table? make his bed? learn to calm himself? stop hitting his sister? Autism does make some things more difficult, but in almost every case children with autism can do a great deal -- if they are asked and encouraged to do so. When you set the bar low, or offer your child with autism too little discipline, you are actually making it more difficult for them to understand or live up to high expectations. Understanding your child's challenges is one thing; assuming your child to be incompetent is something very different.

Frenetic Parenting

Since he woke up this morning, your preschooler with autism has had five hours of behavioral therapy, an hour apiece of speech and physical therapy, two hours of parent-guided play therapy, and four hours of school. As soon as he falls into an exhausted sleep, you jump on the Internet to find yet another therapeutic class, program, activity or resource to add to the schedule. With so much going on, your child with autism has no opportunity to practice what he's learned, to actually meet and get to know another child, or to simply do what children do: play! Rather than frantically searching for and engaging in therapies and activities, consider the possibility that a few hours a day of calm, unfocused parent-and-child time might be just the thing your child needs to grow and thrive.