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.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Content

A Tale of Two Stone Mountains

Despite sharing a name, both Stone Mountains offer unique delights for families to enjoy.

8 Family-Friendly Hikes in NC

From the mountains to the sea, these trails are perfect for the entire family.

Make Painted Rock Plant Markers for Your Garden

Kids love to paint rocks, and the activity will also give them some ownership of the family garden plot.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Newsletter Sign-Up

Stay connected to what's going on for kids and families in the Triad by signing up for our FREE e-newsletters!


Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Annual Guides

GPS [Go. Play. See]

It's your complete family guide to Triad living. Parents are busy and on the go. Use this guide to help you explore all this great area offers for families in Winston-Salem, Greensboro, High Point and surrounding communities.

Exceptional Child

For parents of kids with special needs, finding help and support can be challenging. We've compiled valuable resources for Triad parents in our latest annual publication, Exceptional Child, which is also available as a digital guide.