The month of April is Autism Awareness Month. As someone who works with children with disabilities, this month is dear to my heart. I have worked with many children with different challenges, but children with autism are my passion. People with autism can range from intellectually disabled to gifted in intellect. Autism ranges from mild to severe, and does not impact each person exactly the same. According to the Autism Speaks, “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. ” (https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism).
Some things that can impact young children with autism to varying degrees are:
- difficulty with eye contact
- difficulty with or lack of joint attention (the ability to focus on an object or activity shared with someone else)
- repetitive behaviors in spoken language (e.g. echolalia), motions (e.g. hand flapping), and use of objects (e.g. spinning/waving objects)
- delayed speech or non-verbal
- overly preoccupied with a topic or toy/character
- parallel play (play next to a child, but not actually engaging in imaginative play with a peer)
- not using a toy in a meaningful way; lack of imaginative play
- difficulty with understanding non-verbal communication
- sensitive to touch, taste, smells, light, and/or sounds
- difficulty with transitioning between activities; difficulty with change
Working with children with autism for 10 years, I have learned many things from them and feel blessed to work with them. Children with autism have taught me so much about having compassion and accepting other’s differences.
Here are some things I have learned that a child with autism want you to know:
- I am a child that wants to be loved like any other child.
- I throw tantrums because I have difficulty communicating my needs and wants. Don’t judge me or my family if you see I am having a hard time.
- I want to have friends and want to be accepted by others.
- I have high levels of anxiety and sometimes need to have repetitive behaviors to help calm me down.
- Even if I can’t or have difficulty communicating, it doesn’t mean I am not smart or don’t understand what you are saying.
- I have feelings like everyone else.
- I have dreams of what I want to be when I grow up.
- I have heightened senses that impact the way I experience the world around me.
- I am a visual learner and giving me all oral directions might not work for me. Giving simple short directions might help.
- I may need help sequencing activities to help me transition to different activities.
- I have a brain that works differently, which doesn’t mean I can’t contribute in this world in a meaningful or impactful way.
All children want to be accepted and loved. If you have a child or know someone with autism, you know first hand the struggles that children with autism and families face. Education is key to having a better understanding and acceptance. Having compassion and supporting others who face certain struggles will end up blessing you in return.
If you are a parent who thinks that your child might be a child with autism, early intervention is so important. If your child is under 3, contact your pediatrician for a possible medical diagnosis and services. Depending on your medical insurance, you most likely will be able to receive services through your insurance. If your insurance does not provide services, Regional Center will pick up the services through federal funding. If your child is 3 or older, contact your pediatrician for a possible medical diagnosis, and then your local school district which your child would or does attend to request an assessment for educational eligibility for services (Individual Education Plan- IEP).
Here is an article about resources in California: Beyond the IEP: Regional Center & State/Federal Services for Autism.