Autism is a spectrum disorder – this means that the way the disorder affects children’s development is as individual as the child themselves. How each family chooses to integrate autism into their lifestyle is very personal and getting to know the family’s beliefs and routines will be essential to making a connection.
Although all children with autism are different, there are two core symptoms of the disorder which affect all children with the diagnosis:
1. Social Communication – The verbal ability of a child with autism can range from completely non-verbal to an advanced (and often unusual) vocabulary. Children with autism often have difficulty interpreting body language, jokes, tone of voice, sarcasm and other forms of non-verbal communication. Some require visual instructions or assistive communication devices in addition to verbal interaction. It can be challenging for them to read your emotions and assess your intentions.
2. Restrictive and repetitive behaviours – This can present in a variety of ways. Some children have body motions (hand flapping, jumping, and spinning) that they repeat in order to calm their sensory system. Other examples include repeating phrases, words and sounds, lining up toys, rituals and routines, rules around eating or extreme interest in certain toys, activities or concepts. These behaviours can look unusual and be hard to understand – it’s important to learn as much as you can in order to respond appropriately. For example, talk to parents about what the behaviour may be expressing (happiness, fear, anxiety, excitement etc.) and how they normally respond themselves. Try to keep your responses to behaviour consistent with those of the family.
Children with autism often have an unusual sensory system that “experiences the world” differently than their typical peers. It’s important to learn a bit about their sensory functioning, especially any sensitivities. Some children are under-responsive to sensory input and may experience a high pain tolerance, clumsiness, a desire to touch and taste everything or a need for lots of “squeezes”. Other children are highly sensitive to input and may become upset by being touched, food textures, loud noises, bright lights and other input we may not even notice. A child who is feeling overwhelmed may respond by lashing out, crying or running away.
How you can help: Familiarize yourself with family habits and routines and try to keep them as consistent as possible. Maintain any forms of assisted communication, keep greetings and interactions consistent. Learn about feeding and eating habits and try to maintain them. Consider filling in an “About Me” document to learn about the family’s approach to behaviour, safety, feeding and communication. Please find the About Me document A2 Unit 4 About me here.