It's Autism Awareness Day. Would you please take a moment to explain to the children in your life about autism? On World Cerebral Palsy Day I presented a possible conversation. Here is what it could look like when talking about autism:
Adult: I want to talk to you for a minute about your friend G. Do you know G has something called autism?
Child: What is that? Is he sick?
Adult: No, autism is not a sickness. You cannot catch autism. It just means that G's brain works a little different than yours.
Child: What does that mean? How is it different?
Adult: Well, it's a little hard to explain. Everyone, whether they have autism or not, have things that make them different or unique, things that are hard for them to do and things that are easy for them.
Child: What is hard for G?
Adult: Sometimes it is hard for him to play with you and other kids. He likes going to Cubbies and playdates and Sunday school, but sometimes it is hard for him to know exactly how to play with you. He might not look at you or talk to you in the same way other kids do. He may not know how to ask you if he can join your game or ask you to play with something. That doesn't mean he doesn't like you. You can be a good friend by still talking to him or asking him to play even if he doesn't talk back to you.
Child: He talks about Veggie Tales a lot. Sometimes he says the same thing over and over.
Adult: When he says the same thing over and over, that is called echolalia. It is something he does to try to have a conversation with others or sometimes it just makes him feel calm and good to repeat these phrases. You know how you like to sing the same song all the time because you love it so much? It is kind of like that.
Child: Sometimes he cries or yells when we do things differently in Cubbies. Is that because he has autism?
Adult: Probably. Many people on the autism spectrum really like routine or doing things in the same order. Sometimes a change is upsetting. Remember when you organized your Legos just so and the dog knocked over your container? That was upsetting because you had things set up just the way you liked it. G likes when everything goes the way it has before. He likes to be sure of what will happen next.
Child: He doesn't like to hold my hand at game time.
Adult: Some people with autism don't like certain kinds of touches. G doesn't like anyone to touch his hands very much. It feels bad to him. But he does like hugs and he will give you a high five if you ask.
Child: What does G do well?
Adult: G likes many of the same things you like. He likes music and dogs and books. That isn't because he has autism, that is just because he is a kid who likes those things. One thing he does very well is memorize things. He has many poems and songs in his head that he likes to say sometimes. He loves books and letters. Even when it looks like he isn't paying attention, he really is. His mom can read a history book to his big brother, and then two days later G will randomly tell them about King Arthur or Lake Michigan. The Bible tells us that man looks at the outside, but God looks at the heart. That is really important to remember that who G is inside is really just like you - a boy who likes stories and his family and who wants to have friends and to learn.
Child: How can I be a better friend to G?
Adult: You can start by saying hi. You can sit by him in class or play with him on the playground. Maybe you could read a book with him or talk to him about Veggie Tales or Disney movies. You could ask him about his dog, Scout. Even if it is hard to know what to say, just talk to him like you would any of your other friends.