Autism is a behavioral disorder affecting approximately one in one hundred ten children today and the incidence of the disorder is on the rise. Children on the autism spectrum have a wide range of symptoms and behaviors and many are extremely high-functioning while others learn slowly. Typical problems with autistic children are poor social interactions, difficulty with development and understanding of oral language and a tendency toward repetitive interests, thoughts and behaviors.
Other symptoms in this extremely complicated disorder may include a lack of interest or response to people, an excessive interest in inanimate objects, avoidance of eye contact with people, failure to recognize their own names, a lack of empathy for others, and delayed speech. Every autistic child is different and that’s why we speak of a spectrum in which some children are affected profoundly and others are less affected, but still on the spectrum.
Imagine you are in a foreign country and don’t speak a word of the native language. How would you communicate? What would frustrate you? As you imagine the scenarios that would play out as you tried to get the things you needed or tried to explain something to another person, you’ll better understand the problems in communicating with an autistic child who does not function well in oral language. In addition to that problem, autistic children are often hyper-sensitive to their other sensory information.
For instance, bright lights may cause negative responses and it is believed that autistic children sometimes see skewed images of the things they see, thus some tend to look out of the corner of their eyes to correct the image. Loud noises or even background noise that most of us tune out can cause real discomfort for the autistic child. Autistic children may hypersensitive to touch and thus push people away if they try to hug them. Clothes may irritate their skin. Smells and tastes are stronger for autistic children, each scent or flavor amplified.
Hunger may cause real pain in autistic children and the textures of food may trigger gagging reflexes or overstimulation which can lead to behavior problems. It would seem that the entire world is just too much, too invasive for them. And in addition to overstimulation they are limited in their ability to interact, follow directions, understand questions and a myriad of other skills necessary to learn normally.
If you have an autistic child in your life, here are some things you can do to better communicate and build a strong, supportive relationship with him or her:
Learn to use visual support for all your communication. Rather than just talking to the child, use pictures, diagrams, and drawings. Point out details of an object while talking about it. Write out directions with pictures to support each one. For example draw a toothbrush and point to it when directing the child to brush his teeth.
Ask for and teach physical responses to questions rather than relying on speech. Ask for a shake of the head, a hand clap, a wink, or for the child to point at an object.
Use a calm or neutral tone of voice as much as possible. This will reduce stress for the child and help to avoid overstimulation leading to negative behaviors.
You may be able to develop a simple sign language with some autistic children and music therapy has worked with others. Music has a soothing and gentling affect.
Respect routines in the child’s life. Keep a schedule and use the same vocabulary as much as possible. Speak slowly and clearly and don’t rephrase a question or command, but simply repeat it.
Check for understanding before expecting the child to do a task. Do you understand? You are going to….? And let them fill in the blank. It is reassuring to an autistic child to be able to repeat a question or command before complying.
Above all realize that your autistic child is unique and worthy of respect. Take the time to learn how he communicates, what she likes, what works.
Some autistic children will function satisfactorily in a regular school setting while others need greater support. If you have an autistic child in your life, try some of the above suggestions and look for more information about autism at:
An important footnote:
“AN AUTISM campaigner has called for people with the condition to be more included at the Paralympics. At the moment, people with learning difficulties can only take part in exhibition events at the Games and they must have an IQ under 75” READ MORE>