A few tips and strategies to being more inclusive.
Invite the child to join in
Every child on the autism spectrum is unique, with different strengths and needs at different ages.
The most striking feature of autism is social disconnection. People with autism may appear neither to be interested in nor able to “read” the social world. In many cases, individuals with autism are blind to the give-and-take of human interaction.
Inviting a child to join in on an activity or game is a really wonderful step in fostering their social skills. Sometimes a child with autism may want to be a part of the group, but may not have the words or ability to express themselves.
Normalize the experience
A child with autism may have the same interests as a neurotypical child, but may express themselves differently.
For example, if two children enjoy playing the sandbox, model some fun things for the child with ASD to do with his or her neurotypical peer. You can show them how to dig tunnels or build sandcastles. You can create a fun experience for both children without making either child feel like an outsider.
If the child with ASD loses interest, let him or her play on their own terms. No need to cause stress or anxiety. Make the experience for the child with ASD as normal and comforting to them as possible.
Commit to being inclusive
Remember when the captain of the team in gym class or on the playground would pick you last? It wasn’t a good feeling, was it?
The same applies to individuals with ASD. Include them and make them feel wanted and important no matter how distant or indifferent they may seem. This will expose them to various life situations and work on building social skills.
Being inclusive will mean the world to a child with autism and their family.
Lead by example
Maybe that kid in your child’s class hasn’t been invited to a single birthday party or excluded from joining a playdate simply because – according to others – he seems like a “loner.” Be that person who makes a point of including this child and others may start to follow your lead.
This is why autism awareness is so important. People are often unaware, ignorant or afraid of what they don’t know. Be a leader and pave the way for others.
Uncover strengths and talents
At any age, people with autism have a great deal to offer and they may have undiscovered unique skills and abilities.
In addition to their individual strengths and talents, individuals with autism may demonstrate above-average skills which will help them tremendously in school or when they enter the workforce
Some of these strengths include:
- Very detail-oriented
- Excellent memory
- Visual thinkers
Try not to focus on what a child with autism cannot do, focus on what they CAN do. There are a lot of untapped skills that are just waiting to come out.
Just as everyone has a unique fingerprint, each person has an individual style of learning. For example, not all students in a classroom learn a subject in the same way or share the same level of ability.
Differentiating activities and learning may mean teaching the same material to all students using a variety of instructional strategies, or it may require one to deliver lessons at varying levels of difficulty based on the ability of each student. Some tips on how to do this:
• Design activities based on learning styles.
• Gauge child’s interest
• Create a safe and supportive environment.
“I am not asking for my child to be the life of the party, or a social butterfly. I just want her to be happy and have some friends of her own. She is a wonderful kid, and I hope someday others can see that.”
Many parents of children with autism spectrum disorders echo this sentiment concerning their child’s social functioning. They know that their child has many wonderful qualities to offer others, but their poor social skills often preclude them from establishing meaningful social relationships.
For most children, basic social skills (e.g., turn taking, initiating conversation) are acquired quickly and easily. For children with ASD, the process is much more difficult. Children with ASD often need to be taught skills explicitly, and as early as possible.
Encourage social interaction with your typical child and arrange for playdates and outings. Not only are you doing something beneficial for the child with ASD, you are teaching your own child to be inclusive and compassionate to those with differences.
Being empathetic and inclusive to those of all walks of life is a skill it seems that most of us could work on for a lifetime. Be mindful of this, your acts of kindness will go a very long way.