There are so many things children with autism need those around them to know. This post contains my top eleven. Just imagine how different their world would be if everyone took these into account:
What the outside world see as bad behaviour is often a way of communicating that something isn’t quite right.
It may be their way of telling you that they are anxious, feeling sensory overwhelm or just simply the only way they know of telling you that they can’t cope. After all, if you have social and communication difficulties it can be hard to put into words how you are feeling, especially when you are upset.
When they push you away the hardest, it’s often the time they need you the most.
When children with autism enter crisis they often exhibit what is known as the flight or fight mode.This doesn’t mean that they don’t care about those they run from or lash out at, in fact often those in the firing line are those they care the most about. It just means they haven’t yet learnt the way to regulate how they feel and to tell you when things have become too overwhelming.
Just because they appear calm on the surface doesn’t mean that that’s how they feel on the inside.
Often children on the spectrum seem to go from 0 to 100 in the matter of seconds. In reality they are often holding things together in difficult circumstances all through the day. The final straw may be something very small, but the culmination of all the small things that happen during the day can just mean that eventually things become to much. All too often looking fine doesn’t mean feeling fine.
If they can’t do a task today that they managed yesterday it doesn’t mean that they are trying to be difficult.
Children with autism often perform differently at different times and on different days. Their ability to concentrate on a task often depends on external factors, like the environment they are working in, the time of day, the amount of sleep they got the night before and how anxious they feel about what is coming next. If you get the environment right and help them to manage their anxiety you will go a long way to help them be able to perform more consistently.
You are scary when you don’t smile.
For children who find facial expressions and emotions hard to read, there is nothing more worrying than a non-smiling adult. All too often even a neutral face will make them feel anxious. It will be interpreted as anger, as frustration or as indifference. They will then struggle to concentrate on anything else, whilst they worry about what they have done to make you feel that way.
Change to their routine is unimaginably hard, especially if than change is unplanned.
Children with autism often rely on routine and predictability to regulate their world and to ground them. Changing that routine can be incredibly unsettling and can mean that their emotions become too big to handle. Using schedules to help prepare them for change can help to reduce anxiety, it can act as a a visual reminder that although so evthings have changed other things in their life will remain the same.
A sanction shouldn’t ever be given during a Meltdown.
I’m a firm believer of both rewards and consequences. The real world operates on both, and both used properly can make a difference to all children and their ability to learn how to cope in a world which isn’t always suited to their needs. That said both should be used carefully and kindness. No matter what has happened, a Meltdown is not the time to talk about sanctions. It can wait. And should be discussed afterwards once the child is calm.
Having more control can make it easier to do what needs to be done – especially for children with Pathological Demand Avoidance.
Feeling as though you have no control over what is happening is a scary prospect for any of us. For a child with Pathological Demand Avoidance it can quickly lead to a downward spiral of anxiety. Finding ways to give them more control is often the best way to make them feel more able to meet your demands. Thinking carefully about how you ask for things to be done and building in choices can make a huge difference.
When their parents and teachers work together it can make an enormous difference.
Children with autism benefit massively from consistency. When their parents and teachers are on the same page and use the same strategies it can make a huge difference. Parents know their children the best and are all too often dismissed by professionals, as teachers we have the power to change this. Getting it right will improve outcomes for children.
Anxiety is a very real factor, to the extent that for some children it can make them feel (and even by physically ill).
Focusing on looking at triggers and reducing anxiety levels will have a huge impact on the lives of children with autism. Anxiety is not a peripheral issue to be dealt with later, once behaviour and learning have been figured out. Helping a child to manage their anxiety and reducing that anxiety is key to enabling them to learn and to manage their behaviour.
Just because they might not always score well in standardised tests, it doesn’t mean they can’t change the world.
Childred with autism are often specialists rather than generalists. School based tests can be hard for them, questions are often not written literally, performing in timed conditions increases anxiety, and tests aren’t made on their specialists subjects. Focusing on what they can do, listening to them talk about their special interests and reminding them of just how brilliant they are is just as important as helping them catch up in the areas they struggle. Self esteem matters. Intelligence isn’t always the score on a test. And success isn’t always measured on paper.
Why not leave a message either on this post or on Facebook and let me know would you add to this list? I’d love to know!
If you do want to learn more you might find Victoria’s book a useful place to start. It’s full of different strategies to try out.
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