Children are naturally inquisitive. If your child is on the spectrum, you may find siblings and peers are curious about what autism means. You may hear questions about why someone acts a certain way. Perhaps you have a child who is not on the spectrum, but would like them to join in autism awareness. Autism can be a sensitive topic for children who know little about the disorder, but the topic is necessary to discuss. Here are some tips from our experts to you on explaining autism to children who aren’t on the spectrum.
Pick the Right Time and Place
Choose to talk to your child about autism at a time that is convenient. Do this when there are few distractions and when it is quiet. This will allow your child to speak candidly and feel safe asking questions.
When talking to children about autism, make sure to emphasize that autism is just one part of a person by using person-first language. This means putting the person first in a sentence before the diagnosis. For example, say “a boy with autism” instead of “autistic boy.”
Use Child-Friendly Terms
Keep discussion about autism simple and in terms a child can understand. You don’t have to explain neurological differences or use other technical terms. A statement such as “Some children have brains that work differently from yours or mine,” should suffice. If you are talking with an older child, you might be able to discuss autism in more depth.
When discussing another child’s disability, focus on what a child can do or does differently before talking about what he can’t do. For example, you might want to say “He talks using sign language” instead of “He can’t talk.” This will help your child to see children with autism as individuals with unique abilities.
Point out Similarities When Discussing Differences
Promote inclusion, or help others participate fully in the community, by emphasizing how your child is similar to those with autism. When explaining differences, you might wish to also include ways your child and a child with autism are alike. To illustrate, you might wish to say, “He also likes to play with Legos, just like you!” By emphasizing these similarities, your child will be more likely to connect with children on the spectrum.
Encourage Prosocial Behavior
Suggest ways your child can be a good friend to a child on the spectrum, such as offering assistance to a classmate when needed. By teaching values such as kindness and acceptance early on, your child is more likely to demonstrate these with other children.