10 Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew
Expert tips on relating to children with autism
Some days it seems the only predictable thing about it is the unpredictability. The only consistent attribute, the inconsistency. Autism can be baffling, even to those who spend their lives around it.
It was once labeled an incurable disorder, but that notion has crumbled in the face of knowledge and understanding that increase even as you read this. Every day, individuals with autism show us that they can overcome, compensate for and otherwise manage many of autism’s most challenging characteristics. Equipping those around our children with simple understanding of autism’s basic elements has a tremendous impact on their ability to journey toward productive, independent adulthood.
Here are 10 things every child with autism wishes you knew:
1. I am a child.
My autism is part of whom I am, not all of who I am. I’m a person with thoughts, feelings and talents, like you. Don’t allow stereotypical thinking to limit your expectations of what I may be capable of.
2. My senses are out of sync.
This aspect of autism may be difficult to understand, but the ordinary sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches of everyday life that you may not even notice can be downright painful for me.
3. Distinguish between won’t and can’t.
Receptive and expressive language may be major challenges for me. It isn’t that I don’t listen, it’s that I can’t understand you. When you call to me from across the room, I may hear: “*&^#@ #$%$&*.” Come speak directly to me in plain words: “Please put your book in your desk.”
4. I am a concrete thinker. I interpret language literally.
You confuse me when you say “Hold your horses!” when what you really mean is “Stop running.” Don’t tell me something is a “piece of cake” when there is no dessert in sight and what you really mean is “This will be easy for you to do.” Idioms, puns, nuances and sarcasm are lost on me.
5. Listen to all the ways I’m trying to communicate.
It’s hard for me to tell you what I need when I don’t have a way to describe my feelings. I may be hungry, frightened, confused or frustrated, but right now I can’t find those words. Be alert for body language, withdrawal, agitation or other signs that something is wrong.
6. Picture this! I am visually oriented.
Show me how to do something instead of just telling me, and show me many times. Lots of patient practice helps me learn. Visual supports help me remember what to do and what comes next. They help me feel less anxious about meeting your expectations.
7. Focus and build on what I can do rather than what I can’t do.
Like you, I can’t learn in an environment where I’m constantly made to feel that I’m not good enough and that I need to be fixed. Look for my strengths and you’ll find them. There is more than one “right way” to do most things.
8. Help me with social interactions.
It may look like I don’t want to play with the other kids, but I don’t know how to start a conversation or enter a play situation. Teach me how to play with others, and encourage other children to invite me to join them.
9. Identify what triggers my meltdowns.
Meltdowns are more horrid for me than they are for you. They happen when one or more of my senses has gone into overload, or because I’ve been pushed past the limits of my social abilities. Figure out why my meltdowns occur, and they can be prevented.
10. Love me unconditionally.
Throw away thoughts like “If he would just … .” Remember that I did not choose to have autism, and that it is happening to me, not you. Without your support, my chances of successful, self-reliant adulthood are slim. With your support and guidance, the possibilities are broader than you might think.
A word we both need to live by: Patience. Patience. Patience. View my autism as a different ability rather than a disability. Look past what you may see as limitations and see my strengths.
I rely on you. All that I might become won’t happen without you as my foundation. Be my advocate, be my guide, love me for who I am, and we’ll see just how far I can go.
Condensed from the book “Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew,” second edition (2012, Future Horizons Inc.). Reprinted with permission of author. For more information, visit ellennotbohm.com.