Teaching Tolerance – Starting a Conversation about Autism with your Child

By: Gary Feldman, M.D., medical director, Stramski Children’s Developmental Center, Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach

More of your child’s friends may have autism than you think. In fact, one in 68 children in the U.S. has an autism spectrum disorder. It is important to teach your children about what autism is and how to interact with children who have autism.

Tips to help start a conversation about autism tolerance with your child:

What Makes Kids with Autism Different?

Autism affects a child’s ability to communicate and interact with others. A child with autism may have a hard time communicating with other people, making friends or following directions. Even though they can have a hard time putting their thoughts into words or understanding what your child says, kids with autism understand more than we may think they can.

Children with autism do not adjust well to change. Changes can be scary for them because they like knowing what to expect in all scenarios.

Children with autism may do things that seem strange to your child like flap their hands or seem to always want to talk about one topic over and over. Behaviors like these are normal for children with autism and they may not even realize that they do them.

How can your Child be Friends with a Child with Autism?

Teach your child to be patient and accommodating of a child with autism. Autistic children need time to process any information that your child might give them and their response might not be what your child expects.

Children with autism often have trouble initiating conversations or joining groups of kids at school. Encourage your child to reach out to a child with autism to invite them to play with their group of friends. It’s important to understand that autistic children might want to play a game differently than how your child plays. Your child should try their best to compromise rules.

Some other tips to share with your child:

  • Encourage your child to talk to their autistic friend about a topic of their interest.
  • Your child should avoid being sarcastic or teasing their friend because a child with autism may not understand. Make sure that the way they speak is very clear.
  • Tell your child to be mindful of where an autistic child may be struggling and encourage them to try to be helpful in those areas.
  • Explain to your child that autistic children do not like when things change. Encourage your child to explain rules before they begin playing.
  • Your child should not force a child with autism to do things they don’t want to do.
  • Make sure that your child understands that even though someone with autism has a hard time with communication, they are very smart and excel in other areas like math, art or computer games.

For more information about autism, contact the Stramski Children’s Developmental Center at Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach at (562) 728-5034.



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