Helping Autistic Children with a New Baby


Another blog by Sarah Loveridge, one of our specialist teachers.

Change can be scary, especially a big change like a new baby joining the family and ESPECIALLY if you’re autistic. Thankfully, we often have around 9 months to get ready for this change, and autistic children will need as much of this time as possible to prepare for this big transition particularly if they’re currently an only child.

Why is transition hard for autistic children?

Transition is particularly challenging for some autistic children because unpredictability is the enemy. They may do all they can to control situations, because the more they can control, the safer they feel. Transitions can be so distressing for the autistic child and we might only see it in changes to their behaviour because that is the only way they communicate this.

As a result, transition requires a lot more energy (see blog post on spoon theory) as they try and process all the new information coming at them. Here are some reasons why transitions can be difficult:

  • Not being told what the change will involve
  • Now knowing what will be expected of them
  • Not knowing how long it’s going to last
  • Perceived or real sensory challenges
  • Not being given enough time or information to process the changes
  • Being so engrossed or comfortable in what they are doing that they cannot seem to switch attention and move/do something else.

How can I help a smooth transition?

a line of yellow balls each with a different facial expression drawn on them

  1.  Validate their feelings.

However excited we are to introduce a new child into our family, we will all have moments of panic, fear, doubt, worry and confusion too. Sometimes as adults we feel like we should hide these emotions from our children and pretend everything’s fine in order to keep stability and help them feel safe. More often than not, this makes children more anxious as they pick up on our emotions and see us trying to hide them. If, instead, we talk about our emotions and how we’re dealing with them, this allows our children to validate their own turbulent emotions whilst also modelling effective regulation strategies.

Example: “I’m having a moment of panic about baby clothes – we don’t have enough and I have no idea what to buy…but I can’t let Billy see that so I’ll put a smile on my face and worry about it later when he’s gone to bed.”

Alternative example: “Billy, let me explain why I seem a bit flustered and short tempered today; I’m having a moment of panic about baby clothes – we don’t have enough and I have no idea what to buy…I’m going to have to change our routine slightly and use an hour to sit down and make a plan about baby clothes as that will help me feel calmer. Would you like to help me?”

In that alternative example we’ve taught Billy that adults feel uncomfortable emotions too; we’ve validated his uncomfortable emotions by showing that it’s okay to feel and talk about them; and we’ve given him an insight into one of the many strategies we employ as adults all the time just to get through the day.

A set of baby shoes on a blanket

  1. Help them be a part of the process.

The change is coming and there’s nothing they can do about that. But by letting them be part of the planning process, they are able to control little bits about the transition which helps reduce some of the anxiety. Have a think, what could they help you with?

  • Choosing baby clothes
  • Choosing colours/decorations for the baby’s room
  • Choosing a name
  • Buying supplies (eg nappies, baby food)
  • Packing your hospital bag
  • Making a plan for when you’re away
  • Choosing toys

Note: a lot of baby toys are very pleasing sensory-wise – they might be very soft or have a satisfying crinkle. By choosing baby toys with your child, you’re immediately getting rid of any options that might lead to sensory overwhelm/overload eg toys with annoying high-pitched tunes or toys that have an unwanted smell. This also gives you chance to talk through sharing – could you make a box for baby and a box for your other child which has the same toys in so they can both enjoy playing with them at the same time? This encourages your child to play with the new baby without also having to deal with the difficult social skills of sharing, waiting or taking turns.

By letting them be a part of the process we’re helping them work through some of their emotions, giving them a small sense of control and preparing as a family for this big transition.

toddler and bay sleeping together

  1. Identify potential sensory difficulties

We can all think of some of the hardships of a new baby being around – interrupted sleep, noisy screaming/crying, smelly nappies – but for autistic children these sensory challenges can be incredibly overwhelming, especially if they’re not prepared for them. Don’t panic immediately – some children are able to develop tolerance to certain smells and noises but this takes time. Can you turn it into “the baby game” where you practise listening to a crying baby or smelling something similar to a nappy for a few minutes each day to get ready for it? Can you visit a friend or family member who has a baby for a short period of time to start to build some tolerance?

If this is really going to be a problem, it’s also worth thinking carefully about how you can give your autistic child some respite from the sensory challenges of having a new baby in the house. It might be worth creating a quiet baby-free place in your house where they can have their own safe place to go if it gets too much for them.

We worked with an older child whose parents were expecting a new baby. He was very distressed because he was so noise sensitive that the prospect of a baby’s crying hurting his ears was terrifying for him. Writing him a little story about how a family grows, with reassurances that he could go to a quiet place that was just for him when the baby cried, was so helpful. In the end he loved helping care for his little sister, and many years later, the two are good still very friends.

Ensure you’re taking time to chat with your child about what you will find difficult and talk through what strategies you’re putting in place to cope. It might be helpful to put a set time in the diary each week to talk about “baby worries” and “baby affirmations” or maybe you want to use a 10min timer each day to chat through a question they may have in order to regularly talk through challenges and solutions together.

Sensory ideas:

  • Ear defenders
  • Nice smelling things
  • Hand sanitiser/wipes (for using after touching a sticky baby!)

A baby book

4. Use resources

This is particularly helpful if your child is very young and you’ve read through the blog so far thinking “I’m not able to have all of those in-depth discussions with my child – help!” Even very young or pre-verbal children will be able to indicate which toys they like or which smells are difficult so please do try and implement some of the things above, alongside using some of these child-friendly resources to develop understanding.

Discussion around timescales can be helpful, especially relating to one of the reasons mentioned at the beginning about not knowing how long it will last. There are some helpful guides out there which track changes and can give some idea of what milestones babies might hit. Caution: obviously we know that not all babies develop at the same rate and this needs to be clearly explained to your autistic child. We can use these guides as an idea or best guess about when each phase might start/end but it’s best to view this as a science experiment rather than hard fact. See it as a “can we test this book to see if it’s right?” rather than “this book will be right and the baby might be wrong”.

It can also be very therapeutic to go through baby photos with your child of when they were born. Maybe stick some of them on paper to make a life timeline.  You could do this with photos of you as their parents if you have enough photos.  This can help them to understand that a new baby joining the family is a natural process and is a very good thing! It may also be helpful to help them understand the growing process (that the baby will grow into a toddler, child etc). Use photos and magazine pictures to show how we grow and change and explain that this will happen to baby too.

Be honest with them and feel able to say things like: “yes this change can be uncomfortable, yes our routines will be disrupted, yes it will be difficult for all of us at times BUT we love having you! You’ve brought us so much joy and we’re so glad you’re in our family – so let’s try and welcome new baby/child in the same way”.

Social stories can be really helpful when explaining how your autistic child could react in certain situations but BEWARE! Some examples that you find online are too presumptuous  (eg “I will love my baby sister!”) and some can even lead to vulnerability as they teach your child to “do this to please ___”. For more information on how to write effective social stories, why not check out one of our Social Story training courses:

Finally, a note on adoption

It’s worth mentioning that for some families, you’ll have a slightly different experience of this transition as you go through the adoption process. Again, preparation time and child involvement is key. The tricky thing with adoption is that sometimes it falls through. Whilst it is a natural instinct to want to protect your autistic child from this heartache (which can sometimes happen again and again) it is also worth remembering that a lot of autistic children over-empathise so they’ll be feeling your emotions anyway. If this is the case then talking about it will be helpful in developing their understanding of why you’re feeling that way and will stop them worrying about whether it’s something they’ve done to cause your distress.  

One of the (many!) good things about adoption is that you often get some information about the child before you bring them home so you can show your child pictures, get them used to the name and maybe even meet them a couple of times before they join your family. This can be a really positive way of preparing them for the transition to sibling-hood!  . This is a great website –

 To sum up…

As with all things for autistic children, it’s never one-size-fits-all. What works for some children in this transition won’t work for others. If you can identify worries or triggers early on, then that gives you a really good starting point for finding some solutions and hopefully some of these ideas will help. The key is always to prepare as early as possible and try and get the child involved as much as possible. And congratulations on your new addition!

Can Social Stories really help autistic young people?

Teaching assistant sharing a story with a boy pupil in a green jumper.

By Lynn McCann author of Stories that Explain

*Social Stories are a Trademark of Carol Gray


As an autism specialist teacher, I have been writing social stories for over 15 years. But I’m the first to admit that social stories can be ineffective, damaging and even dangerous.

The trouble is that many people have heard about Social Stories and mistakenly think they are a tool to sort out misbehaviour, or to get a child to comply with something. These sort of Social Stories are ineffective because they are badly written with no reference to the actual structure and rules created by Carol Gray in the early 1990s for very good reasons.  At best you might have wasted your time and the child and the staff end up feeling that Social Stories are not worth using a tool. Sadly, badly written social stories can also seriously damage a child’s self-esteem or put them in danger.  The relationship with the adults around them can be damaged through them insisting that the child complies with something that is actually very difficult for them to do. The adults’ wrong assumptions can affect the child’s mental health and make them very vulnerable to exploitation. This is a serious matter.

I would always be fair to parents and teaching staff as they are often told by educational psychologists, advisors, autism trainers that they should use Social Stories without being given any training in how to write or even choose a good one from the millions of templates there are out on the internet. Wanting to help, people might search the internet and copy something that they’ve seen online and hope that it will help the child.  Often, what they end up with is a script that breaks all the rules of how to write a good Social Story.


These are some of the things that make a script not a Social Story

  • Only talking about negative things;
  • Using language such as must, always, you need to, you will, you must, you have to
  • Assuming how someone will feel;
  • A list of rules or punishments;
  • What you must do to please somewhere else;
  • Explaining how your actions hurt other people and blaming the person for getting it wrong;
  • Insisting that the person understands your point of view;
  • Insisting an autistic person behave in a typical way or trying to make them stop being themselves.


A Social Story works really well if first we understand the experience or the issue from the autistic person’s  perspective. Then we write the story in a way that acknowledges this. We use carefully chosen words to explain what we would like to help the person understand in a way that makes sense to them.  Carol Gray’s rules on sentence types allow us to do this. Following her guidance means that we can write good Social Stories consistently and be more certain that there are helpful resource, and not a waste of time.

I have written Social Stories to help autistic children and young people understand many different social situations that they found tricky or confusing. I’ve written stories that help autistic children manage many different anxieties and prepare for new experiences. The topics I have written them about, range from “what happens to poo when it goes down the toilet”, to “why we can use other people’s ideas in our writing and how that helps us know what to write”. I have written about death, loss and fears as well as celebrations, affirmations and how awesomely autistic someone is. You can write Social Stories for very young children, for those who do not use verbal language or cannot read, right through to those who can discuss and consume very complex explanations when they are written in a way that makes sense to them.  I personally write most of my Social Stories with teenagers who are trying to understand the complex world around them.  We have covered politics, gender, revision, relationships, sometimes with a huge dose of humour as we seek to reassure and celebrate the young person’s life and help them navigate through school and beyond.  Their views and aspirations are celebrated and often by this age, we write the account together so it is for them and with them.

In my book, Stories that Explain

I shared over 60 social story templates for primary age children, that could be edited to support common situations that we have found our autistic young people have had to deal with over the years.  Each one takes account of the sensory and communication differences as well as explaining the situation to help them understand it better. We write coaching sentences which helps a child make choices about what they can do in each of those situations.

I’m really passionate about teaching other people how to write good Social Stories… and we regularly put courses on to teach people to do just that.  Keep an eye on our UPCOMING TRAINING PAGE for dates, or invite me to do training for your school, group or organisation.   The course is open to everyone, at a reasonable cost and in the three hours I’ll take you through the rules, show you examples and then you’ll have a go at writing a story with my tutelage.  I intend to give you all the skills you need to be able to go away and write your own social stories for the children, young people and even adults that you support.

This course is suitable for parents, school staff, and volunteers and carers. We can do it online or in person, so that people from anywhere can join us, and you will also receive a pack of story examples, the handout from the training and some helpful tip sheets so that you can continue to write the best Social Stories.

(Social Stories can be written for children, young people and adults so whichever service or age of person you work with, this course is for you).