The number of children being diagnosed with autism has increased sharply over the last few years, and along with the increased number of diagnoses we’ve seen improvements in autism care. Thanks to supported living assistance, many autistic children can lead relatively normal lives. This means that your child may have one or more autistic classmates.
Teaching your child what autism means, and how to communicate with autistic children, will help them to understand why the autistic child sometimes behaves in ways that seem unusual and will help them to learn that people think differently.
Young children that are still learning to communicate themselves may find it difficult to understand what autism means. The best thing to do is to keep the explanation simple. Explain that a child with autism may find it difficult to cope with lots of noise, or being touched, and that they aren’t being rude if they cover their ears, or shrink away from touch.
Tell your child that their autistic classmate might find it difficult to understand jokes, facial expressions, and the way people behave in groups. The social rules that the rest of the class follows without even thinking about it – such as taking turns with toys, or deciding as a group whether to play tag or hide and seek at playtime, are as indecipherable to an autistic child as the hardest subject at school is to your child.
Autism is Not Contagious
When a child first hears about autism, they may be worried that they can catch it. One of the first things you should explain to your child is that they can’t catch autism. Nobody knows for sure what causes it, but it doesn’t spread from person to person, so it’s perfectly safe for your child to play with an autistic child.
Autistic children may behave strangely if they are confused or distressed, and they may sometimes act in ways that could be thought of as being rude – not because they want to cause offence, but because they simply don’t understand how people see their behaviour. If your child understands why their classmates may behave like this, then they will be more tolerant and understanding; a skill that will serve them well in the future.
What Can Doctors Do?
Children can be amazingly caring and kind-hearted, and your child may be worried about how the other child feels, and what the future holds for them. Explain that, thanks to supported living and improved autism care, it’s possible for them to go on to lead a relatively normal life.
Autistic children that attend a regular school and have access to specialist autism care outside of school can often go on to pick up most of the important life skills, get a job, and live on their own just like a person without autism.
People without an autistic spectrum disorder are called “neurotypical” by doctors. Using such jargon may confuse a young child, but it’s a good idea to avoid using the word “normal”, as that can cause a lot of unnecessary stigma.
This post was written by James Harper on behalf of Voyage who provide supported living services as well as help with autism care.