Explaining Autism to Others
Some parents do not find it necessary to tell others that their child has autism or to explain how about autism affects their child. Others feel that sharing an understanding of the nature of autism can prevent misunderstandings and even prejudice. A person with autism often functions very differently from their neurotypical peers. If possible, involve your child in telling people about their autism.
To start with keep the explanation simple. Explain that the brains of people with autism function in a different way to other people. This is not because they’re brain-damaged but because their brain develops differently. Studies using brain imaging show that the brains of people with autism work differently to neurotypical brains when performing different tasks. These differences in brain function can help us to understand the great skills and gifts that many people with autism have as well is the difficulties they encounter.
There are four key areas to cover when explaining autism to others. There is considerable overlap of these four areas but it is really important to get the basics over in a simple way.
1 - Communication
It’s important to explain that people with autism often experience a processing delay when communicating. Make sure they allow extra time (up to 30 seconds) for the individual to process what has been said before repeating or asking in a different way as this may cause further confusion. It is not that people with autism can't understand what it is said it's just that it takes slightly longer to absorb it first time round.
2 - Social interaction
Most people pick up the skills of social interaction without realising. People with autism often see social interactions and relationships as a bit of a mystery. For example knowing when to say hello, who to say hello to and how many times to say hello to someone does not come automatically to a person with autism. To someone with autism, it may seem like there are a set of secret rules and everybody else understands these secret rules. Children with autism often need to be directly taught how to interact in a social situation.
3 - Need for routine
Lots of people like life to be predictable which sometimes makes it more difficult to understand this aspect autism. However with autism that desire for routine is much more than just liking routine. A child with autism may not have the ability to work out what might happen next if a routine changes. When things are unpredictable this can lead to a rapid rise in anxiety levels. Children with autism can and do cope with the changes to routine but it's hard work and frightening for them. It's important to explain to others that disruptive or awkward behaviour in happening because your child is anxious and afraid.
4 - Sensory processing difficulties
Sensory issues can have a considerable impact on the life of a person with autism. Your child may have sensitivity to noise levels or certain sounds. They may have difficulty with their sense of balance or where their bodies are in space. The taste and texture of food can also lead to dietary difficulties that seem hard for others to understand. It's important to explain your child’s specific challenges to others so that they can take into account these needs and offer help and support.
When explaining these four areas to people remember to point out that they are interconnected and difficulties in one area are often linked difficulties in another.
Stress that each child with autism is an individual and the impact of autism is different with each person.
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