How to Approach a Child with Autism

Author: Lisa “Luna” DeCurtis, M.A., CCC-SLP

Friends, family, neighbors and even teachers often do not know how to approach a child with autism and make a connection without overwhelming the child.  Most people mean well, and of course, want to communicate and connect with the child, but struggle with the best way to approach a child with autism.  Here are some suggested do’s and don’ts when socializing with the autistic person in your life.

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1)    DO Start with the Senses – Autistic people can have very strong reactions to sensory stimuli:  sight, sound, taste, smell and touch.  Loud noises and loud voices can be particularly aversive, so when entering the room, DO speak slowly and softly.  Or, maybe even wait to speak.  The smell of perfume can be a real turn off for a person with sensory issues, no matter how faint you think it is, so DO NOT wear perfume, if possible.  And, sense of touch is a very common issue for autistic people, so DO NOT initiate a hug, handshake or pat on the back unless you know the person does not mind being touched.  DO  ask the family about sensory stimuli issues before coming in contact with the autistic person.  Check out more information about children’s sensory integration.

2)    DO Observe. DO Wait. DO Listen.  Known as OWL, this is the Hanen Early Language Program model for communication in early language, and it gives friends and family a chance to view what the autistic person is interested in or preoccupied by.  And, it gives the autistic person time to assert themselves and try to communicate what they are interested in.  Learn about the importance of non-verbal communication.

3)    DO NOT talk too much or ask too many questions:  “How old are you?  When’s your birthday? What’s your favorite color?  Do you remember me?  Do you like candy?” etc… Many people entering a social situation try to make quick conversation, particularly with children, and ask tons of questions.  It is often not a good idea with any child, but for an autistic person, language can be overwhelming, particularly questions, about themselves.  It is simply going too quickly for them, and be aversive to the auditory processing system described above.  It is not that they do not want to tell you these things, if they are able, it is that they need time to acclimate to your presence.

4)    DO just sit near the child.  I once had an autistic child tell me that he played, “alone together”.  This struck me with its simplicity, clarity and brilliance.  Alone and together is a safe place to be for some people.

5)  DO Review HSA plans for ideas on helping your child’s speech and language development.  And, get medical insurance quotes for low cost individual medical insurance plans, and health insurance for autism now.

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