It’s no secret that children with autism are often excluded and feel isolated from their peers. But sometimes, a little effort can go a long way toward helping them realize they’re wanted and included.
We wanted to know some of the best ways to connect with children with autism, so we turned to their parents. We asked our readers on Facebook to share one thing others can do to help their child with autism feel more included. Here’s what we learned.
1. Take the time to learn about autism.
“People can help my son feel more included by gaining a basic knowledge about autism and by teaching their children a little bit about autism and disabilities,” Lexie Nooyen wrote on Facebook. “I often hear, ‘What’s wrong with him?’ or ‘Is he always like this?’ He can hear you! A little bit of knowledge, acceptance and perseverance can go a long way.”
And if you know someone who has autism but aren’t sure how to interact, it’s OK to ask questions. “My son types to communicate. It’s different,” Amy Allnutt wrote in her post, “The Simple Word That Can Make My Nonverbal Son’s Day. “It’s OK to ask him questions about it. It’s not OK to stare and point.”
“Ask me how you can help your children to connect with mine,” Rachael Slough added on Facebook. “I have found that children my son’s age are eager to connect with him; they’re just unsure of how.”
2. Treat kids with autism the way you would treat any other kid.
“It’s simple. Actually ‘include’ them in anything with children their age,” Nicole Newhouse wrote on Facebook. “This will help in so many ways: socialization, awareness, education for all involved and more.”
Andrea Michael, an adult on the spectrum, added that attitude and tone of voice also matter when you’re talking with someone with autism. “Don’t use a patronizing tone… As soon as people find out I have a disability, the falsely over-positive ‘You can do it!’ thing starts to happen,” she wrote on Facebook. “It feels insulting and alienating.”
3. But accept what makes them different, too.
“If my son stims or flaps or hums or tics, just act like you don’t notice,” Lauren Cockrell wrote on Facebook. “Oftentimes he doesn’t even know he’s doing it, and calling attention or asking him to stop embarrasses him and makes him less likely to interact.”
4. If you’re hosting a get-together and are on the fence about whether to invite the family of a child with autism, invite them.
“Invite my child (with autism) to your home. Invite her to go places with you. Let her experience sleepovers and casual visits. Make the effort to include her in your social world,” Regina Hall Williams wrote on Facebook. “My 15-year-old loves being included as a peer, yet it rarely happens.”
“We can usually make the necessary accommodations and prepare our children for an outing if we’re given some time to plan,” Slough wrote. “Don’t hesitate to ask us to do something because you assume it’s not possible. It’s better to ask and for us to decline than to not ask at all.”
5. If conversation is hard, look for other ways to relate.
There are plenty of ways to engage with a child with autism, even if he or she is nonverbal or doesn’t want to talk. Beth Klingbiel suggests making comments that don’t necessarily require a reply. “Instead of asking, ‘Oh, what do you have there?’ comment by saying, ‘I really like your robot. He looks like he’d be fun to play with,’” she wrote on Facebook. “Questions can be hard, and it’s not nearly as awkward if there’s a silence after a comment. There is no pressure to answer, and the child still feels included.”
“Let them share their interests in their own way,” Aimee Kelly added. “My son loves Disney and enjoys sharing his many books with his daycare classmates.”