By Kelley Yost Abrams, PhD

About the Author: Dr. Yost Abrams received her PhD in Developmental Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, and is a fellow with ZERO TO THREE. She is a parenting expert and early childhood researcher. Dr. Abrams specializes in parent-child attachment relationships, social-emotional development, and infant mental health.

In-Home Care for Children with Autism: Tips and Resources for Parents

If you suspect your child might be on the autism spectrum, you are likely exploring ways to provide optimal support within the home environment. It's critical to understand that autism is a unique way of experiencing the world— we call this "neurodivergent." As a parent, your focus is on learning to support your child's development and emotional well-being by understanding their unique needs. A nurturing environment that accommodates your child and eases frustration will allow them to thrive. 

Here, we provide helpful caregiving tips and resources for parents on in-home care for their autistic child.

Support Through Understanding

Understanding how your child reacts in different environments and making changes can significantly lower their stress. It's important to look at these common factors to help create a better environment for them.

Craft a Comfortable Sensory Setting for Your Child

Children with autism often process sensory information in ways differently from those who are neurotypical. For instance, certain noises, lights, foods, or the feeling of clothes can be pretty bothersome or even cause discomfort for some individuals. This can distract the child and upset them, making it hard to attend to what they're doing. It's not that they are being selective; it's because of how their brains process these sensory inputs. 

So, if you can adjust your child's environment to minimize these sensory challenges, it will make a significant difference. Prepare quiet spaces in your home, alter the lighting if required, and find tagless clothes for them. Also, give your child regular breaks from a stimulating environment. 

To help them further, pay close attention to your child's words or signals about how close you can be to each other. Notice whether they want to be touched and what's troubling them in general. You can model respect for your child's needs by practicing asking them about their preferences using words, symbols, or images. In essence, give them the "vocabulary" to make their needs known. 

Help Your Child Communicate Better

Autism can make it challenging for a child to express themselves. They might struggle to talk about their feelings, or they might stay silent. It's essential to comprehend that there's more happening in their thoughts than you might realize.

Communication isn't just about speaking. We all share our thoughts with body language, gestures, and facial expressions. Behaviors are another way we communicate.

Figure out how your child shows their feelings and help them learn ways to be understood by others. Teach them the "vocabulary" – with words, signs, or pictures – to describe what they need. Try tools like communication boards, picture schedules, or speech output devices. Every child needs ways to communicate, and some may prefer unique methods.

Empower Your Child for Social Interactions

Many children with autism might feel uneasy in social situations. They often know they seem distinct from others. Also, their interest in social interactions, especially in larger groups, may vary.

Things like school festivals, local community gatherings, or birthday celebrations can be stressful for autistic children. This is because they cannot spontaneously process new things at a similar pace to their peers. It takes a lot of stamina to filter out distractions, understand social cues, and simply fit in. 

To help your child:

  1. Prepare in advance for events like family holidays.
  2. Tell them, 'I need a break,' or simply go to a 'quiet corner' when you feel stressed or need time to prepare a family attending the holiday.
  3. Educate the attending family about your child's needs to improve the environment.

Encourage your child to express their social differences to friends and adults. Providing others with knowledge about why your child communicates in a certain way helps them accommodate and understand. Prevent your child from entering uncomfortable situations; instead, gain an understanding of their preferences. Remember, all children, whether autistic or not, develop unique social habits, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Strategies & Tips for In-Home Care for Autistic Children

Caring for an autistic child can be costly. The cost of therapy, which may not always be readily accessible, can pose a financial challenge. However, parents and caregivers can provide therapies at home, fostering improvement and skill development while strengthening their connection with the autistic child.

While autism often requires extensive therapeutic intervention, parents can also provide helpful techniques at home on their own. These therapeutic techniques include:

Interactive Play Therapy

Autistic children, like all children, develop social interaction and communication skills through play, though they often engage in solitary play and repetitive actions rather than imaginative pretend play.

Children learn through play. Participating in play together enables you to practice crucial social skills such as taking turns, solving problems, and regulating emotions. It also nurtures a meaningful connection with your child, underscoring their importance in your life.

Begin by establishing a connection with your child through simple chasing games, blowing bubbles, or sensory activities such as swinging, sliding, wriggling through a tube, finger painting, footprint painting, mud play (mashing, scooping, and building with mud), and sand and water play (combine sand and water in a large bucket; add shells, plastic fish, and rocks for splashing, swirling, and interactive play).


  1. Adjust play according to your child's age and preferences.
  1. Engage in activities such as sitting on the floor with blocks or sharing their favorite hobbies.
  1. Participate in their play as they organize toys, expressing curiosity about patterns and asking questions.
  1. Encourage learning about specific interests (like cars, trucks, trains, etc.), a favorite animal, or popular TV characters. For example, you can pick one of their favorite toys and imitate the sounds that the item makes while explaining the action you are performing to your child. 
  1. Allow your child to take the lead in play, embracing unconventional approaches to strengthen your connection.


Floortime, also known as DIRFloortime®, is a methodology that fosters an individual's growth through a process that is respectful, playful, joyful, and engaging. The DIR model, developed by child psychiatrists Stanley Greenspan, M.D. and Serena Wieder, PhD, utilizes the power of relationships and human connection to help the child reach these 6 key milestones for emotional and intellectual development:

  • Regulation of oneself and interest in the world
  • Intimacy, involving engagement in relationships
  • Mutual communication
  • Advanced communication
  • Emotional concepts
  • Emotional cognition

Teachers, caregivers, healthcare professionals, and parents worldwide use this approach to support human development in people of all ages, especially children on the autism spectrum. The goal is to help the child expand their “circles of communication.” 

Floortime involves parents joining their child on the floor for interactive play, connecting with them on their level. It is an alternative to ABA and is occasionally employed alongside ABA therapies. 

Floortime is conducted in a calm environment, either at home or in a professional setting, with sessions lasting two to five hours. Parents or providers participate in the child's activities, progressively engaging in more complex interactions. The emphasis is on reciprocal play to establish a foundation for shared attention, engagement, and problem-solving, with a focus on enhancing the child's ability to maintain concentration and develop abstract, logical thinking.

If the child is playing with a ball, the parent can copy the movements with another item, like a balloon. Placing the balloon next to the child's ball or adding new words to the activity encourages the child to join in and interact.

As your child grows, you can match the strategies with your child's developing interests in order to encourage a greater level of interaction. For example, instead of toys, parents can engage with ideas of special interest to their children in their day-to-day lives.

Speech/Language Therapy Exercises

Children with autism often struggle with talking and understanding language. Speech therapy significantly aids in improving their communication skills. If they start therapy early, there's a good chance it will make a substantial difference in how well they can talk and express themselves.  

Speech therapy, on the whole, is intricate, but there are aspects of it that parents can offer with relatively little training. While at home, parents can help their child use words well and effectively, express themselves through speech or gestures, and understand when and how to communicate appropriately. 

Here are some easy and fun speech therapy exercises you can do at home to boost your child's communication skills:

Home Exercises for Children with ASD:

  1. Offering Choices
  • Teach gestures and eye contact for communication. For meals, let your child choose between two foods, asking, "Hotdogs or chicken nuggets?" Encourage pointing or speaking for choices.
  1. Teaching Essential Words
  • Focus on keywords like "more," "open," and "help." Start with "more" during meals, having your child say or sign the word when finished for effective communication.
  1. Matching or Sorting Games
  • Boost problem-solving by sorting pictures. Group by similarities, like foods. For toddlers, sort items by color and shape, using puzzles for fun problem-solving.
  1. Reading Together
  • Read, point at pictures, and discuss. Encourage questions in a yes/no format. Take turns discussing the story based on your child's age.
  1. Facial Muscle Activities:
  • Strengthen oral motor skills with funny faces and sounds. Practice daily in front of a mirror for feedback on mouth movements.
  1. Picture Board Communication
  • Use a picture board to guide your child through activities— associate pictures with specific times like mealtime and playtime.
  1. Sing-Along Exercise
  • Enjoy sing-alongs for word and sound association. Use songs like "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" to teach different sounds and animals. Encourage imitation for fun learning.

ABA, or Applied Behavior Analysis

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is often seen as a top-notch method for helping people with autism. This is because therapists set clear goals that can be easily measured. Some people who support those with autism don't like ABA because it relies on changing behaviors, which they think can be harmful. However, many experts recommend ABA and say it works well.

ABA can be learned through classes or online training and used at home. However, here are some basic, intuitive ABA concepts that don’t require formal training:

  1. Select a skill you want to teach your child (like combing hair).
  2. Break the skill into steps (find your comb, hold it the correct way, brush your hair, etc.).
  3. Show your child each step slowly until they get the idea. Once they learn to do it by themselves, ask them to do it.
  4. Praise them every time they do the step well. If they fail, ask them to repeat it. Ultimately, they'll connect your words with the action.
  5. Go on to teach the next step once they've mastered the first one.
  6. You can use a chart to show them the steps in case they get confused.

Some commonly targeted objectives of in-home ABA therapy include toilet training, developing self-help skills like dressing and toothbrushing, enhancing communication through requesting and labeling items, and addressing challenges related to food and eating habits.

Where to Get More Information

A reliable source for autism information is the National Autism Association. If you notice symptoms in your child, get them screened promptly.

As you care for your autistic child, staying informed is key. If you suspect your child may be on the autism spectrum, our article on autism evaluation provides insights into what to expect. Through the article, learn more about common screening tools and processes. Timely screening can guide effective support for your child's unique needs.

List of Resources