Autism now affects around 1 in 68 children in Canada. For the parents of children with autism, a simple car journey can become a serious ordeal, especially if the vehicle ever breaks down, as an autistic child may find the experience highly distressing. If you are the parent or caretaker of an autistic child, consider what you should do if your car breaks down with the following practical tips.

Keep calm

It's not easy to react well when your car breaks down, but it's important to remember that your reaction can quickly and easily rub off on your son or daughter.

Some autistic children also suffer from sensory processing disorder (SPD), which means they are either highly over-sensitive or very under-responsive to sensory changes. In either situation, your mood and reaction could make a big difference.

Conceal any anxiety you feel. Make sure you speak in a normal tone, suggesting that nothing is wrong. Explain to your son or daughter that you just need to ask for some help getting the car moving again, and avoid negative words like 'broken' and 'emergency,' or your child may pick up on the connotations these words bring.

Create distractions

Distractions can keep an autistic child calm and happy during stressful situations. When your car breaks down, you need to get out of the car and move a safe distance away from the vehicle, so it's important to find a way to make this sudden change in situation appeal to an autistic child.

Many parents of autistic children 'gamify' these situations. Tell a simple story that means everybody now has to get out of the car as part of an adventure, using certain rules like 'watching your step' and 'holding onto the trees' if you need to climb a bank or slope to get a safe distance from the car.

If your child has a favorite toy, make sure you don't leave it in the car. Anything that can bring comfort and familiarity in a strange situation can help enormously.

Avoid surprises

Autistic children often react badly to sudden changes and surprises. Given that you wouldn't have predicted that the car would break down, you will need to reassure your son or daughter and try to help him or her cope with what happens next.

Use encouragement and positive feedback as you would in many other situations. Maintain a constant dialogue with your son or daughter, explaining what will happen next. Try to warn your child about things that may cause a lot of noise, such as the rumble of a truck or the sounds of sirens. Explain who is coming to help and what he or she may do so your child doesn't have any reason to feel afraid when the help arrives.

Many parents of autistic children carry noise-cancelling headphones with them. With these headphones, your son or daughter can continue to listen to music and/or play a game when he or she gets out of the car. In turn, this can help avoid unwanted surprises that may upset your child.

Look for ways to create security

An autistic child may find it particularly difficult to cope with the strange terrain at the side of the road. If you can, create a small, cozy space with a familiar blanket and pillows beside or under a tree, where your child may feel more secure.       

Sweets and treats can also help. The taste of a favorite candy or chocolate bar may create comfort in an otherwise stressful situation. Certain repetitive behaviors can also help. For example, some autistic children repeatedly flick a rubber band or twirl a piece of string to help them shut out unwanted stimuli. By encouraging these repetitive actions, you can help your son or daughter feel less insecure or vulnerable.

Certain situations can prove highly stressful for the parents of autistic children. Carefully consider what you would do if your car broke down, so you can help your son or daughter cope with the situation. Also have the contact information of Fort McMurray Towing flatbed towing or another service in your local area ready so that you don't have to scramble to find help.