How a Mobile Phone Helps Me Support My Daughter With Autism

My daughter is 11 years old, and she is on the autism spectrum. Her independence over the past year has grown, and she now walks many places on her own and takes public transport for slightly longer journeys.

With this growing independence, it seemed appropriate to buy her a phone. There seem to be varied opinions about young children owning phones, with lots of pros and cons as to whether children having access to technology is healthy. I initially bought my daughter a phone for safety reasons, for when she is out of the house. But over time, it has become a wonderful tool for us to communicate with each other about more personal matters, including when negative emotions arise.

My daughter can have difficulty expressing herself in spoken words. She often keeps her emotions to herself, and it can sometimes lead to a meltdown. When she was younger, we used a pen and paper when negative emotions arose so she could write her worries down and then share them with me if she wanted to. The emotion she feels often seems too big for her body, and finding a positive outlet has been key to reducing the frequency of meltdowns. Now she is growing, we have found another way to “talk” with each other that doesn’t need spoken words.

Utilizing technology to support communication is on the rise. There are many apps that have been developed for the purpose of helping people with autism communicate. We have found using a simple messenger app can help us communicate at the most difficult times: prior to and during a meltdown.

With the onset of a meltdown, words seem to leave my daughter. She tells me her thought processes become fuzzy and she can forget the strategies we have been working on. Talking to her when she is heading for or during a meltdown is often futile as it can just escalate her feelings of upset.

On occasion, when out of the house, my daughter has chosen to message me to tell me she isn’t feeling well. I always encourage her to share her feelings and started giving her advice on what she could do over text. This text communication has now grown to be used even when we are in the same house, particularly prior to or during meltdowns.

When my daughter is in a meltdown, all I want to do is cuddle her and make her feel better. The last thing she usually wants when she is in a meltdown is to be touched by anyone or hear words of any description, regardless of how loving they may be. So now, instead of physically helping her, I choose to text her that “I love her” and ask her what she wants me to do to help her calm down. Sometimes she will say “leave me alone” and other times she says she “doesn’t know how to calm down.” On these occasions, I text her a plan for calming down, including the strategies we have been working on so she can read and process them in her own time.

As my daughter has grown, I have had to be inventive with alternative ways to communicate. Using a messenger app with my tween daughter allows for emotions to be expressed, even when verbal words are lost and physical contact with people is not preferable. It keeps the whole household calmer in general and can help ease my daughter’s upsets.

One thing I have realized from parenting my daughter is there are many ways people can communicate. I know it may seem alien to some that a lot of the support I offer my daughter when she is distressed is through an electronic device, but for now it works for us, and we look forward to embracing whatever technology is developed in the future to enhance and support our daily lives.

Image via Thinkstock.

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