Autism is a lifelong condition which affects the way a person relates and communicates with those around them. People with autism struggle to recognise facial expressions and what they mean, they may also struggle to develop empathy with others.
Children with autism have difficulty in developing friendships due to the inability to relate meaningfully to others. Children with autism are prone to isolation because the rest of the world appears confusing to them. Other children will struggle to understand why a child with autism is different too, causing them to avoid them. Children with autism may also have an accompanying learning disability or an additional developmental disorder.
Autism makes it difficult for children to engage in imaginative play as they struggle to imagine themselves as another character. Other symptoms of autism include obsessions, a lack of an awareness of danger, and hypersensitivity to light and sound. Autistic children may also be ritualistic about their play and behaviour. They may repeat the same dynamics of play and the same routines and if these are interrupted, an autistic child can get very upset, distressed and even aggressive.
Engaging with a child with autism can be difficult if you don’t understand the condition. Understanding autism is key if you want to make the life of a child with autism happier and easier. Here are a few useful techniques that will help you:
Use simple language
It can be a challenge to engage an autistic child in school or at home in acts of every-day life, especially if you’re attempting to introduce a new task or concept. It’s important when talking to a child with autism, to use short and concise sentences. Try to position the key word at the end of the sentences and add stress to them so the child acknowledges that this word is important. Make sure your sentences aren’t ambiguous and are clear and to the point.
A good tool to use to help engage children with autism is to use pictures or a real object to help illustrate what you’re talking about or asking of them. As long as the picture is simple and of the exact object you’re talking about, pictures can help an autistic child to understand the concepts you’re trying to explain. With very young autistic children, using a real object backed up by a picture may be more beneficial.
Picture timetables are used to help give autistic children a sense of structure, routine and security. A mix of photos, drawings and pictures can be used to suit the child’s preferences. Picture timetables can also be used to break down an activity into steps. It’s important for the timetable to be simple and therefore should not be overloaded with information; it needs to be clear and unambiguous so the child doesn’t get confused or feel overwhelmed.
Many autistic children have fixations or obsessions with a specific thing such as trains, cars or dinosaurs. Using this obsession to help engage an autistic child can be very beneficial. For example, if the child has a particular obsession with trains then these can be used to help teach numbers and counting. Involving an autistic child’s fixation in anything you want them to be engaged in can encourage them to join in and be interested.
Visual and physical stimuli
Many autistic children respond very well to visual or physical stimuli. Children who can be isolated and hard to reach can be engaged by using a variety of abstract techniques. Bubbles have been found to be very popular with autistic children, as have physical stimuli such as sand and paint. Allowing an autistic child to touch and feel a variety of textures can lead to interest and concentration on a task. For example, using hands and fingers to paint with instead of brushes will be preferable to an autistic child.
Some autistic children may prefer physical activities to help burn off pent up energy or to help ease anxiety or agitation. Outdoor activities such as swings, slides and trampolines have been proven to help engage autistic children and help to involve them in play. The feel of the air moving across the skin and hair of the child will be especially appealing to those who prefer physical stimuli.
Do your own homework
Whether you teach, care for or are a parent of an autistic child, taking an autism awareness course can be extremely beneficial to both you and them. These types of courses are designed to better aid your understanding of how autistic children think and feel. The courses can also give you practical tips and suggestions to use when interacting with a child with autism. If you better understand what these children struggle with on a day-to-day basis, then you’re in a better position to interact and help teach them.
Autistic children struggle to understand their own world for themselves, they cannot explain to you how they see the world or what it is that confuses or upsets them. By taking an autism awareness course you will learn all these things and more, and you can help an autistic child to make sense of the world around them.
NCC Home Learning are a leading UK resource for adult home learning courses, more information is available at www.ncchomelearning.co.uk.