Updated: Sep 24
This is a little different from what I usually write about, but recently, I volunteered at a center that supports kids with autism. At the end of the day, I had a surge of powerful emotions. I was extremely grateful to be given the opportunity to help kids, play with them, and feel like a kid again myself.
But I was also aware of how less I knew about autism and how to deal with these children. The experts at the center were great and extremely gentle with the kids. So, I thought I would share my experience and list some of the things I learned from experts helping kids with autism in their daily lives.
Although I am nowhere near an autism expert, I learned there are no set rules to follow when dealing with autistic children. Each child is different, but according to the experts, there are some general things you can consider increasing the likelihood of positive experiences.
Be Patient and Consistent
The best way to understand children with autism and help them understand you is to be patient. Autistic children take longer to process information; thus, you must slow the conversation to match their speed and understanding and insert long pauses.
Moreover, you need to stay consistent. Autistic children don’t respond well to change and like to stick to their environment. For instance, if they learn to communicate through non-verbal cues at school but don’t get the same environment at home, it will be confusing for them.
Create a Safety Zone
The center had personal spaces and safety corners dedicated where children could feel secure and have their space if they wanted it. This helps in organizing and setting boundaries in ways the child can understand. You can use color-coded tapes to label spaces or mark off-limit areas.
Find Non-Verbal Cues
It's normal for autistic children to convey their wants and needs with non-verbal cues. It isn’t necessary that you have to speak or touch to communicate. Thus, as a parent and a teacher, it is essential to be aware of each child’s non-verbal cues and remember them for future reference. Learn the sounds, facial expressions, and gestures they usually do when they are happy, upset, or angry.
As I said, children with autism tend to process their surroundings slower than we can; thus, they need time to understand your requests or stories, especially if you are talking fast. What I learned from my day the most was to be patient and give them space and time to respond. For instance, if I ask a question, I have to wait intently for their response for a few seconds and react only when they reply. I don’t necessarily have to change my question or approach to help them respond faster.
Interact Through Physical Activity
All kids learn through physical activity and games, and autistic children are no different. The center had many physical activities planned throughout the day to desensitize the environment and make it more fun and exciting. This is because autistic kids have a shorter attention span and enjoy spending unpressured time with other children and family members.
Dealing with an autistic child can be challenging and overwhelming. I genuinely respect all the parents, teachers, and experts who are well-versed in this regard and hope my little effort helps someone out as well.