What not to do with an Autistic Child: Tips & Autism Do’s & Don’ts
It’s crucial for parents and educators to know what is not recommended to do with autistic children. This encourages effective communication, builds connection and trust, and conveys respect for a child’s individuality. It can also boost a child’s developmental skills.
Knowing the do’s and don’ts of interacting with an autistic child can create a supportive and inclusive environment that allows the child to thrive. It’s important to avoid certain actions and approaches because these could actually hinder an autistic child’s communication skills and engagement with others.
Here we’ll explore what to do and what not to do when interacting with an autistic child. By following these tips, parents and professionals can promote the child’s overall well-being and build meaningful connections. Let’s start by looking at what not to do with an autistic child.
Letting Children Perceive Autism Negatively
It is important to ensure that an autistic child does not perceive autism as undesirable or bad. Having that perception can result in negative effects on their emotional well-being, self-identity, and self-advocacy.
A negative attitude towards having autism could inhibit a child’s willingness to access appropriate services, like Speech Therapy or Occupational Therapy.
Focusing on an autistic child’s flaws or difficulties isn’t recommended because it can also make them feel more socially excluded. Individuals shouldn’t talk about autism as if it is something that needs to be fixed or cured.
Disciplining Children for Typical Autistic Behaviors
Others should not discipline a child for typical autistic behaviors like repetitive actions or difficulty with transitions because they are often beyond the child’s control.
Keep in mind that autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that causes children to have difficulties with sensory processing and social interactions. Disciplining a child for actions that result from these difficulties can result in them having anxiety, low self-esteem, and decrease their desire to interact with others.
According to research, the use of harsh discipline strategies are connected with high levels of parental stress and disruptive behavior in young autistic children.
Instead of disciplining for undesirable behaviors, parents and professionals can work on developing strategies to help the child work through difficult situations in appropriate ways. An example of this is reading the child a social story before going somewhere new to help him or her cope with the unpredictability of this new event.
Focus on giving autistic children attention and praise when they show positive behaviors. For example, parents can praise their child for cleaning up and transitioning away from an activity when asked.
Unpredictable situations can be challenging for an autistic child. Others should be aware of these situations, which might include:
- Sudden changes in routine.
- New social interactions.
- Loud or unpredictable sounds.
- Unstructured play (free play without instruction, which can be difficult to initiate or to engage in with others)
- Changes in environment (i.e., going to a new place, or changes in the way a familiar place looks)
Just like all children, each child with autism is unique. It’s important that others take note of specific triggers for a child and their level of sensitivity,
Providing predictable environments and routines can help an autistic child find comfort in knowing what to expect during daily activities.
Forcing Children to Do Something Against Their Wish
Autistic children often thrive off of routine and structure, however, they should not be forced to do something they do not enjoy. That can lead to increased resistance, anxiety, and stress.
Concentrate on the child’s specific interests and preferences so that he or she is motivated to engage with you. Focusing on a child’s strengths helps build their confidence and supports their overall development.
Losing Patience with an Autistic Child
Maintaining patience with an autistic child helps build trust, supports effective communication, and encourages positive behavior. It also avoids adding unnecessary stress to both the child and the parent or educator.
Exercising patience allows others to improve their understanding and empathy for a child’s unique needs. That can set the stage for effective communication and problem solving.
To encourage a child to feel important, loved, and unique, we should remember that having autism does not mean a child is any less important.
Treating an autistic child with patience, love, and understanding helps to create a positive environment where he or she can grow and utilize their unique skills.
Dismissing the Child’s Feelings
Others should not dismiss an autistic child’s feelings because it can negatively impact their well-being and social interactions.
Parents and professionals should validate a child’s emotions, which fosters trust and emotional development. Acknowledging their feelings helps them feel valued and heard.
Building a strong relationship with the child helps others foster a positive environment that’s supportive of the child’s learning and well-being.
Forcing Eye Contact
Forcing eye contact with an autistic child can be overwhelming, increase anxiety, and hinder effective communication. Sensory sensitivities in some can make eye contact feel uncomfortable or painful.
Studies show that people with autism process direct eye gaze differently than typically developing individuals. Showing acceptance of this can create a supportive, accepting environment, encouraging a child to use eye contact when they feel comfortable and ready.
Using Derogatory Language
Using derogatory language is harmful, disrespectful, and perpetuates stigmatization. It can cause emotional distress and go against the principles of empathy and inclusion.
Others should show understanding, respect, and empathy when interacting with autistic children. It’s crucial to recognize that all individuals have unique strengths and abilities.
Overwhelming Children with Tasks
Parents and professionals should be cautious not to overwhelm autistic individuals with tasks because it can lead to stress, anxiety, and reduced focus.
Due to the unique abilities and sensory needs of many autistic children, it’s important to provide manageable tasks. For example, the child can be given one task at a time, such as going to get their shoes. This is more manageable than asking the child multiple directions, such as going to get their shoes and socks, bringing them to the chair, and putting them on.
Presenting manageable tasks supports an autistic child’s well-being and helps them succeed in school and life.
Excluding Autistic Children from Social Activities
Excluding autistic individuals from social activities deprives them of valuable experiences, connections, and opportunities for growth and social development.
Instead of excluding a child due to their unique challenges, consider using certain accommodations with the child to help him or her participate more appropriately.
For example, let’s say the child is invited to a birthday party. A situation like this could have overwhelming sensory stimuli for the child, such as a new environment, many unfamiliar people, and loud sounds. You could help an autistic child prepare for this scenario by creating a visual schedule using pictures to show each activity during the birthday party. Discuss it with the child for several weeks before the party, and refer to it during the party to help the child participate appropriately as needed.
How to Interact with an Autistic Child
It’s important to know how to interact with an autistic child because this helps the child feel supported during social interactions. It can encourage a positive relationship between you and the child, and foster effective communication. Here are some specific recommendations on how to interact with an autistic child to benefit their overall wellbeing.
Keep a Positive Attitude
According to several research studies, individuals should promote a positive perception of autism in children. This can improve a child’s psychological well-being (such as self-esteem and self-perception) and lower their social anxiety.
Encourage a child to maintain a positive attitude about autism by focusing on their unique strengths and individuality. This can help them develop a sense of pride and empower a child to advocate for themselves and thrive in life.
Show Affection and Empathy
When parents model showing affection and empathy, a child is likely to match this temperament, according to research.
Because taking another person’s perspective (known as theory of mind) is often difficult for autistic individuals, developing empathy is particularly important for them.
Educating yourself about autism and learning along with children is important because it allows you to do the following:
- Provide appropriate support strategies based on the child’s abilities and needs.
- Know what speech and language tools can be used to improve the child’s communication skills.
- Advocate for the child.
- Enhance the child’s overall well-being by creating an understanding and supportive environment.
Encourage the Child’s Interests
Taking note of a child’s interests and incorporating them into helpful activities can increase their engagement.
Having focused interests is one of the defining characteristics used to diagnose children with Autism. An autistic child’s focused interests might consist of one or more of the following:
- A strong preference for a certain television show or movie.
- Attachment to a certain object.
- Gathering facts or information about a certain topic.
- Playing games or completing activities alone.
- Lining up or categorizing toys/objects.
- Sensory seeking activities
- Focusing on a certain part of an object versus the whole thing.
Research shows that focusing on a child’s special interests can increase their participation in tasks like academic activities that they would otherwise be averse to.
For example, if a child is interested in lining up toys, use this to increase their vocabulary. You can say the name of the animal before handing it to the child and then pause, giving them the opportunity to imitate you before adding it to the line.
A child’s interests can also show their unique strengths, which can be used to motivate the child to engage in tasks that can improve their skills in other areas.
Consider an autistic child who enjoys memorizing facts about different countries and needs to work on improving their comprehension skills. Consider this as a strength to utilize for learning purposes. He or she may be more receptive to answering questions about stories when they are related to this topic.
Seek Professional Guidance
Professionals working in the field of Autism Spectrum Disorders can offer valuable knowledge and experience that can support autistic children and their parents. Parents should seek out these professionals, and professionals should consider referring to others who offer services that may benefit a child.
Professionals in the field include:
- Speech-Language Pathologists
- Occupational Therapists
- Developmental Pediatricians
- Special Education Teachers
- Behavior therapists (ABA) such as an RBT or BCBA
Each of these professionals can work one on one with an autistic child to provide services in their area of specialty. This can improve a child’s skills in areas, including:
- Speech and language development
- Sensory processing skills
- Social/pragmatic skills
- Behavior management
- Academic progress
During therapy, parents can participate and benefit from the expertise of the professional working with their child. This can help them learn how to work with their child at home to practice and continue improving their skills.
This includes learning strategies that can be easily incorporated into daily activities (such as snack time, bath time, and reading). Parents can become more knowledgeable about the nature of Autism. This can help them understand the child’s diagnosis and be more responsive to their unique strengths and needs.
Using Forbrain with Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Despite having good intentions, it can be challenging at times for parents of a child with autism to remain patient and understanding when attempting to teach new skills. Parents can avoid this struggle by using helpful tools to make the learning process easier.
Forbrain is an altered auditory feedback device that is designed to improve attention and focus, enhance speech and language skills, and boost confidence in communication. When wearing the easy and intuitive device, Forbrain is designed to modulate a child’s voice so it sounds clearer and stimulates the brain to retrain its abilities.
By knowing the do’s and don’ts of interacting with an autistic child, parents and professionals can create a supportive, inclusive environment for the child that maximizes their development of skills.
Others should try to avoid actions like disciplining a child for typical autistic behaviors, being unpredictable, and excluding an autistic child from social activities. Instead, it’s important to foster a positive environment that builds off of a child’s strengths.
It’s recommended that parents and professionals seek services from specialists in the field and utilize valuable learning tools. This can make the process of teaching a child new skills easier and more effective. Forbrain is a tool designed to enhance a child’s speech, language, and attention.
Parents, educators, and healthcare professionals – by implementing the tips mentioned here, you can help your child thrive.
Cooper, K. et al. (2023). The impact of a positive autism identity and autistic community solidarity on social anxiety and mental health in autistic young people.
Falck-Ytter, T., et al. (2015). Eye Contact Modulates Cognitive Processing Differently in Children With Autism.
Nowell, K.P., et al. (2001). Characterization of Special Interests in Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Brief Review and Pilot Study Using the Special Interests Survey.
Shawler, P. M., et al. (2017). Parental Stress, Discipline Strategies, and Child Behavior Problems in Families With Young Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders. https://doi.org/10.1177/1088357615610114