Autism is a mental illness that affects more children than many people know of. I’ve worked one-on-one with a couple of children who have autism and found that they are brilliant little beings who need help expressing their thoughts and desires. I’ve listed 10 tips on helping children who are autistic for you to continue to add to.
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10 Learn What Autism is
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It is to your advantage to learn what autism is. There are many forms and it affects each person a bit differently. The more you understand about this illness, the easier it will be to fear it less. People tend to fear things that are strange to them. Children with autism need people who understand what they are dealing with, in order to help them have a better life and an easier time growing up.
9 Take a Class on Working with Autistic Children
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Working with an autistic child is a lot different than working with a child who doesn’t have any sign of autism. There are certain techniques used to help children learn, cope with reality, and adjust to specific situations. Many tasks that are considered easy for most people can be extremely difficult for a child with autism. It usually takes more than a single class to get a handle on dealing with autism. These classes turn into more of a workshop and can last for multiple days. You will feel much more prepared to help children with autism after this workshop.
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8 Remember That All Kids Are Different
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Most people have seen the movie Rainman and know that this character had autism. While the representation was an accurate one, it only depicts one form of autism. I’ve worked with two children with autism that were only a year apart. The abilities each one showed were amazing, but completely different from one another. One could speak and the other only sang unintelligible songs. One made eye contact when you said his name, while the other never looked you in the eyes. Both understood every word that was said to them, but each reacted differently.
7 Find out What the Child Likes
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Like with any child, it’s always good to know what makes them happy. Sometimes the only way to get an autistic child to focus on something is by offering a treat or reward of some sort that he/she thoroughly enjoys. For instance, the little girl I worked with absolutely loved playing at this interactive table that was filled with toys and rice. She would write her name as many times as you asked her to, as long as she knew she was going to be able to play in the rice table when she was finished.
6 Don’t Assume
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Too many people don’t know what autism is and they assume that these children are dumb or incapable of learning. These little guys may often be in a world of their own, but they are by no means ignorant. I was constantly amazed at the progress the two little kids I worked with made on a regular basis. They each absorbed information in their own way and even processed it differently. The little girl never made eye contact, but she always knew when she was being talked about. I could see her stop what she was doing and tilt her head to the side as she sang to herself.
5 Don’t Be Afraid
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Children with autism might have different needs than children without autism, but they are still just little kids. Don’t be afraid to interact with them. These little kids are amazing in their own right and require the same things all other humans do; love, compassion, and attention. There’s no need to be afraid to talk to or come in contact with a child who has autism. Depending on the severity of the illness, you might feel like you are being ignored, but don’t be afraid to keep trying to connect.
4 Be Understanding
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You can take all the classes you want to try and understand exactly what autistic children are going through, but it’s hard to know completely without being autistic yourself. Try to be as understanding as possible and know that each child learns at a different pace. Whether you are working in an environment where you come into contact with autistic children or have a child of your own who has autism, remember to let them go at their own pace.
3 Don’t Expect an in-depth Answer
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Try not to get frustrated with one word answers or blank stares. Many children with autism start off not talking at all. Asking a question and then expecting a detailed response just isn’t possible. Even later in life, many types of autism don’t allow the child to verbally express themselves as fully as even they would like. It’s best to learn how the child you are working with prefers to acknowledge questions and then be satisfied with that.
2 Use as Few Words as Possible when Asking a Question
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One of the aspects of autism that is talked about in many of the workshops is the use of few words when making a request. For example, if you need an autistic child to sit down, then it’s often easier for him/her to understand if you simply say, ‘Sit, please’. This often works better than adding in a whole string of words to try and form a complete and polite sentence. Sometimes the more words you add to the sentence, the less likely you will be to get your point across.
1 Have Patience
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This is definitely a mental illness that requires a lot of patience to be able to deal with it effectively. The more patience you have, the less frustration and stress there will be. If you feel you aren’t in control enough of your emotions to handle working with a child with autism, then you might want to get help from someone who has a bit more patience. Any child can sense when an adult is losing patience, but some forms of autism make children ultra-sensitive.
I hope you find these 10 tips on helping children who are autistic to be useful, whether you have a child with autism or know of someone else who does. Do you have any additional tips you’d like to add? Have you found certain methods of interaction to be more helpful than others? Feel free to share what you’ve experienced.
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