This week’s Practical Moms Feature is one of my favorites. She describes herself as a 30-something mom to five, four in her arms and one in her heart. She began her parenting career as a teen parent, raising a daughter with Autism. She later fought through infertility and got pregnant with triplets, only to lose one of her triplets in the NICU. A little over a year after her surviving triplets came home, she had one more baby. She has been through it all, and yet she remains positive, grounded, and a great support to other moms. She supported me daily through my latest pregnancy loss, and still checks in with me several times a week. Together we invented what we refer to as “DM Therapy”, which isn’t a real thing but should be (I can say that because I’m a therapist), where we have quick DM chats to help each other through the hard moments. Sometimes you don’t need (or have time for…or children who will wait patiently through) the whole hour on the couch, after all…
Please welcome Jessica of Four Plus an Angel. Today Jessica is sharing tips on how to help your children understand and interact with children with Autism.
Tips for Teaching Children About Autism
Autism occurs in 1 out of every 110 children and 1 in 70 boys. With many schools moving towards inclusion of students with special needs, your son or daughter may have one or more classmates with autism or you may be related to someone with the disorder. Sometimes it is hard to know what to say or do around a person with autism and how to explain the disorder in simple terms a child can understand.
Here are a few tips:
1. Explain to your child that autism is a disorder that makes it hard for a person to deal with the world around them. A sound, like the school bell ringing, that may not bother most kids, may sound like nails on a chalkboard to a child with autism. A tag in a t-shirt or someone touching them unexpectedly might feel like an itchy sweater. The sunlight outside might feel like a flashlight has been just shined into their eyes. Autism is like walking around with your nails cut too short and your shoes on the wrong feet. Every. Single. Day.
2. Assist your child in interacting. Many children with autism have a favorite “thing.” Encouraging your child to find out what that interest may be is a great way to help them connect. At the same time, it is important that your child knows not to take things from a person with autism. Often they are carrying their favorite thing because it makes them feel secure. When it comes to playing with friends with autism, leave their toys alone unless they offer them to and then give them back when they ask.
3. Help your child understand behaviors they may see. Individuals with autism not only have difficulties coping with the world around them but they also have a hard time communicating their feelings. When they are upset or overwhelmed they may make loud noises, spin, run, jump or demonstrate other repetitive behaviors. This is the only way they are able to communicate at that moment and the best thing your child can do is give their friend space. I have seen many occasions where kids who have a friend with autism are able to discover the cause of a meltdown before an adult can. It is great to see sensitivity and awareness develop in young children.
4. Find ways to ensure your child sees the person and not the disability. This is true for all types of special needs, not just autism. Sometimes our children may be curious about behaviors they see or by students who look different for one reason or another. We have all had that moment where our child stares for a little too long and we are hurriedly trying to distract them. One thing you may try is to find something about that person that your child can relate too. We often see a little girl in a wheelchair with a sparkly backpack on the back. I once pointed out her backpack to my young daughter and she forgot about the wheelchair and talked to her about Hello Kitty instead. This technique helps initiate interaction and helps your child get over their fear of the unknown.
Our children are growing up in a world much more diverse than we did. If we model acceptance and understanding, not only will we raise kind, supportive individuals but they will be better prepared for their future in a world of uniquely able people.
Isn’t she amazing? Leave her some positive energy here, and then please head over to her place and enjoy her beautiful writing.