Meta Description: Working or interacting with children on the spectrum can be a challenge for you and the child. Here are some of the best ways to help interactions go smoothly.
On The Spectrum
When a child is referred to as being “on the spectrum”, it means that they have some form of autism: a developmental disorder with many possible outcomes. Autism is known as a spectrum disorder because children and other autistic individuals may be anywhere on a vast spectrum. Children who have autism usually begin to show signs at a very early age and these symptoms continue into childhood and adulthood. Even in our modern medical world, medical professionals still aren’t sure why children develop Autism: it may be a gene, and it may be environmental factors that come together to trigger the condition; it may be something else entirely.
It can be daunting for adults without CPI training to relate to children with autism. They may withdraw into themselves or seem disinterested in what is going on around them, or they may be extremely talkative and overly energetic, honing in on one subject in particular. Either of these types of behaviors can push people away if they don’t have an adequate understanding of how to handle the situation.
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There are a few things that you need to understand if you have an autistic child in your family or will be interacting with one.
- Children with ASD may not understand any or all non-verbal communication.
- They may take any statement literally.
- They may not be able to handle many thoughts or ideas at one time.
- They may talk incessantly about things that they are interested in, even if it is not an appropriate time.
- Sounds, smells, tastes, or feelings that you interpret as ordinary may be greatly distressing or even painful to a child with ASD.
How Can We Help Children With ASD?
There are many ways to make things simpler, safer, and more comfortable for children with Autism when you interact with them. Here are a few tips.
- Be patient. Children who have ASD may take longer to process information than you do. Don’t rush them; show them that they have the time that they need to fully process any information and ask as many questions as they need to.
- Teach the child to express anger without becoming aggressive. Since children with ASD do not moderate their emotions in the same way that we do, things may quickly become frustrating or overwhelming for them which might lead to aggressive outbursts. Make it clear that there is no need for them to hide their anger, but to express it in a healthy way.
- Be persistent. The challenges in interactions with kids on the spectrum can be as much a stressor for the non-autistic party as well. Remember that anything this child says or does is probably not designed to hurt your feelings; it’s just how they are wired. Don’t let your responses to their actions tell them that their natural actions are unacceptable: this may damage their ability to express themselves.
- Stay positive. Though expressing our feelings is a good lesson, expressing too many negative feelings around a child with ASD or providing negative reinforcement is not helpful at all.
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- Ignore purposefully irritating or attention-grabbing behaviors. This behavior may be an attempt to draw extra focus or attention. The best way to prevent “look at me” behavior is to ignore it and reward good behavior.
- Interact using physical activities. Kids with ASD tend to have shorter than average attention spans, so physical activity will keep them engaged and in the moment. Running around and playing is a great way to enjoy time together and keep the child calm and happy.
- Be affectionate, but be respectful and ask for consent. Though they may not always show it, children with ASD might sometimes just need a hug! This goes for some children, while others do not like to be touched at all. It’s essential to get a child’s consent before touching them. Even if you mean well, touching a child with ASD when they don’t want to be touched can be counterproductive.
- Learn from the Autistic child in your life. Learn what works for them, what they like or tend towards naturally, and what they don’t.
- Look after yourself too. Loving or interacting with a child on the spectrum can be hard work, even when it’s done with love. You need time to do “you” things with other loved ones or just take a break to recharge. If you have a support system, you’ll do much better. Share interactions with other family members and find a support group for parents of children with Autism so that you can reach out to people who know what you are dealing with.
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Interacting with children with autism is manageable for both you and the child in your life. Take a deep breath and remember the tips that you have learned here, and you’ll both be just fine.