Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disorder that can affect a person’s ability to communicate and relate to others. Children with autism differ from each other, so a method that works with one child may not work with another. But there are some basic guidelines when helping children with autism succeed:
Use Clear, Concise Language
Autistic children think concretely. Sayings like, “it’s a piece of cake” instead of “it’s easy” are often lost on them. They will be left wondering why you are talking about cake when there isn’t any around. Use clear, concise language to convey what you want the child to do. For example, “Time to put your toys away. It’s time for lunch.” Remember to make sure you have their attention before giving instructions.
Not everyone is used to being around and interacting with children with autism. For those new to the experience, it can be stressful. But no matter how stressed or frustrated you are, don’t get impatient with them. Getting impatient when something doesn’t go the way you want and using sarcasm will not only reinforce unwanted behavior, but make the child stressed as well.
Consistency is the key. By keeping to a clear, consistent schedule, there will be less stress for both the child and you. If a change occurs in the schedule, let them know before the change happens. It will allow them time to prepare themselves for the new activity.
Don’t Take Meltdowns Personally
Children with autism may occasionally have a meltdown or behave inappropriately. Don’t take it personally. Remember that they are not throwing a tantrum to “get attention.” A meltdown differs from a tantrum in that they are not trying to manipulate the situation to be in their favor.
Often, meltdowns or aggressive behavior happen when the child feels overstimulated or frustrated that they cannot communicate what they want. Take the time to learn what the child does and does not like. What calms them down? What makes them anxious or scared?
Give Visual Instructions
Children with autism are often visual thinkers. They have to see something to understand it. When explaining something, give a visual example. For example, in arts and crafts, show them what the final product will look like. It will give them a clear sense of when something is finished. Instead of asking them what they want during snack time, show them the choices. Remember to not give too many choices at once, as it can be overwhelming.
Don’t Isolate Them
If you have a child with autism, don’t isolate them. Children with autism do need occasional alone time to help them cope and calm down. However, excluding them altogether won’t help them learn how to interact with others, can damage their self esteem, and promote discrimination among children without autism. Include the child in activities, but recognize when it starts becoming too overwhelming for them.
Build a Peer Support System
Building a peer support system with children without autism can help a child with autism learn good social skills, and they will have a partner to help them with daily activities. By pairing an autistic and non-autistic child together, both will learn how to interact with each other, leading to positive exchanges and experiences.