Menu

5 ways to help our kids be more compassionate and understanding to children with autism

3. Recognize similarities + celebrate strengths.

5 ways to help our kids be more compassionate and understanding to children with autism

In the autism community, there is a saying, "If you've met one child with autism, you've met one child with autism." Children with autism are uniquely wired. They each have gifts to share and individualized ways of seeing the world. With the CDC reporting that 1 in 59 children is diagnosed with ASD, chances are high that your child knows or is connected with someone who is uniquely wired.

As humans, we tend to gravitate toward people and situations that we know, understand and with whom we feel comfortable. When we encounter someone whose behaviors are unexpected or difficult to interpret, it can make us feel unsettled or anxious.

FEATURED VIDEO

Our natural tendency may be to avoid that person or situation. But that default response doesn't help us grow as a person or expand our compassion, and it can lead to a person with differences being excluded and isolated. Many times, children on the autism spectrum will behave in ways that are unexpected or different.

So how can we help our kids become more compassionate and understanding of those children with autism who are uniquely wired? Here are five tips.

1. Use your powers of observation.

Uniquely wired kids struggle with communicating their feelings, thoughts and actions. But if we watch their actions more closely, over time, we can often figure out what they are trying to tell us. Behavior is communication. All the pieces to the puzzle are there. We can patiently try different ways they may fit together.

It is also important to know that children diagnosed with autism typically don't learn by watching others. They mostly learn through direct, explicit guidance. That's why picking up social cues around them can be so difficult. A child with autism may need to be specifically taught certain skills directly.

Teach your child to communicate directly and calmly to uniquely wired kids. A child on the edges of the playground may want to play, but isn't sure how to join in: "Hey Sam, let's play tag." Before getting angry that another child isn't taking turns, calmly say what you expect: "It's my turn now."

2. Have empathy-building experiences.

For many kids with autism, their sensory systems are under-filtered and super sensitive. Some children hear a sound more loudly and intensely or can't separate background noise from their teacher's voice. Others see typical lights as shockingly bright ones.

Have a discussion on what it feels like when a flash from a camera goes off right in front of you. The light is so bright that it often makes us flinch. Do you have to look away because the light is so bright?

Imagine walking in front of a car and suddenly hearing the horn honk. Are you startled?

Hold up two empty paper towel rolls to your eyes. What can you see? What can't you see? Now try to walk through a crowded room.

This is how some people tell us they experience lights, sounds and surroundings and can help your little one better understand how other kids might see things differently.

These conversations build empathy for uniquely wired kids. They also help us understand why having quiet, calming spaces and schedules or routines can make some children more comfortable.

3. Recognize similarities + celebrate strengths.

Remember that we are alike in many ways.

"I feel bad when other kids are mean to me just like you do.

I feel alone when other kids don't include me–just like you do.

I feel hungry, tired, hurt, cranky, cold, hot, thirsty, yucky and sad–just like you do.

It's just harder for me to talk about it." (Uniquely Wired, 2018, Boys Town Press)

Everyone is good at something but nobody can be good at everything. Parents, talk openly about your own strengths and struggles, successes and setbacks. Demonstrate patience, persistence, and what it can feel like to ask for help. We all are more motivated and confident when working from our strengths and interests.

The same is true for uniquely wired kids. Is your friend obsessed with watches? Time each other on an obstacle course. Is your child obsessed with rollercoasters but refuses to practice handwriting? Pretend each letter is a rollercoaster with lots of sound effects and screams.

4. Prioritize quality time with every child.

Try to give each of your children your genuine, individualized time. All kids have unique needs. Children on the spectrum may require the majority of your time, but make it a point to schedule specific quality time with each child, or ensure your child's caregivers do the same.

Make sure you find a way to be present at important events. This may mean you need to designate another person to spend time with your uniquely wired child, and that's okay. The most valuable gift you can give to your children is your authentic time.

5. Foster effective relationships.

All human relationships must have two things to thrive: trust and communication. Do your best to build trust and communication with your children and those who help them navigate the world so they feel comfortable asking you questions or talking about experiences. Be a good listener. Keep the lines of communication between home, school, friends and health care professionals open.

Acknowledge that this can be challenging, constant work. Ask schools and health providers what tools they have to make communication successful. Always remember, no one knows your child better than you do. It's also okay to not have all the answers. You are growing and learning alongside your child so finding other parents and kids who have different backgrounds and behaviors can be a great start to your journey.

Special thanks to Beth Dierker, mom of a uniquely wired child, for her insight.

You might also like:

I felt lost as a new mother, but babywearing helped me find myself again

I wish someone had told me before how special wearing your baby can be, even when you have no idea how to do it.

My first baby and I were alone in our Brooklyn apartment during a particularly cold spring with yet another day of no plans. My husband was back at work after a mere three weeks of parental leave (what a joke!) and all my friends were busy with their childless lives—which kept them too busy to stop by or check in (making me, at times, feel jealous).

It was another day in which I would wait for baby to fall asleep for nap number one so I could shower and get ready to attempt to get out of the house together to do something, anything really, so I wouldn't feel the walls of the apartment close in on me by the time the second nap rolled around. I would pack all the diapers and toys and pacifiers and pump and bottles into a ginormous stroller that was already too heavy to push without a baby in it .

Then I would spend so much time figuring out where we could go with said stroller, because I wanted to avoid places with steps or narrow doors (I couldn't lift the stroller by myself and I was too embarrassed to ask strangers for help—also hi, New Yorkers, please help new moms when you see them huffing and puffing up the subway stairs, okay?). Then I would obsess about the weather, was it too cold to bring the baby out? And by the time I thought I had our adventure planned, the baby would wake up, I would still be in my PJs and it was time to pump yet again.

Slowly, but surely, and mostly thanks to sleep deprivation and isolation, I began to detest this whole new mom life. I've always been a social butterfly. I moved to New York because I craved that non-stop energy the city has and in the years before having my baby I amassed new friends I made through my daily adventures. I would never stop. I would walk everywhere just to take in the scenery and was always on the move.

Now I had this ball and chain attached to me, I thought, that didn't even allow me to make it out of the door to walk the dog. This sucks, I would think regularly, followed by maybe I'm not meant to be a mom after all.


Keep reading Show less
Shop

It’s science: Vacations make your kids happy long after they’re over

Whether you're planning a quick trip to the lake or flying the fam to a resort, the results are the same: A happier, more connected family.

Whether you're looking for hotels or a rental home for a safe family getaway, or just punching in your credit card number to reserve a spot in a campground a couple of states over, the cost of vacation plans can make a mom wince. And while price is definitely something to consider when planning a family vacation, science suggests we should consider these trips—and their benefits—priceless.

Research indicates that family vacations are essential. They make our, kids (and us) happier and build bonds and memories.

Keep reading Show less
News

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that newborns, especially, do not need a bath every day. While parents should make sure the diaper region of a baby is clean, until a baby learns how to crawl around and truly get messy, a daily bath is unnecessary.

So, why do we feel like kids should bathe every day?

Keep reading Show less
Learn + Play