Posted on April 26 2022
Autistic children are just like other kids so there are no actual right or wrong ways of interacting with them.
It is common for one to feel uncertain about the “right” way to interact with and be around someone, adult, or child, with an intellectual or developmental disability. Children with autism are as individual as any other kids so there aren’t any scripted ways on how you should interact with them. However, there are general dos and don’ts on what can help to promote positive experiences and what not to do with them. As with all kids, autistic children deserve your kindness and respect. Learning how to engage them positively will benefit both you and the child.
Always Show Respect
This is the first rule above all else and being courteous is just as important when speaking to adults as with children. Do not assume that autistic children do not understand all that you are saying, it’s best to sound out the situation and speak accordingly.
Give Time to Respond
Children with autism need more time to process and understand your words, especially if you’re speaking in a loud, crowded environment. During a conversation, it’s best to exercise patience and leave space for the child to respond. As soon as the child reacts, do so as well and resist the temptation to fill up the gaps of silence.
Talk About What They Want To Talk About
One of the core autism symptoms is the extreme interest in specific topics that can range from photography, numbers, history, recipes and more. Talking about these topics brings autistic children comfort as they enjoy sharing knowledge and can carry on endlessly about the subject. Obsessions are part of the autism syndrome and that means constantly talking about the same topic. Tune in to the child’s interests and bond with them by listening to the topic. You may ask questions and avoid changing the subject. Forcing the conversation in a direction you want it to go is never a good idea as you’re likely to get ignored, shut down or be faced with a meltdown.
It is important to be aware of non-verbal signals as they may indicate how your child feels.
Pick Your Moments
Autistic children thrive on schedules and routines so you need to suss out the right time to engage them in a conversation. You’re likely not to be met with a positive response If you interrupt them when they are deeply involved in something else. Similarly, it’s never a good idea to engage an autistic child in a different conversation when they are already fixated on a particular topic. Pick your moments wisely by waiting for a calm, quiet moment and you can begin engaging with them.
Keep It To the Point
Short and sweet is the way to go when it comes to communicating with autistic children. Keep your sentences simple, direct, and the pace of the conversation needs to be at the child’s level. Processing sentences for us seems almost innate and second nature. However for these kids, they need to work at deconstructing what you say so keep it to the point and give them time.
Try Writing or Drawing
If speaking seems to be getting nowhere, try to write or draw out the message you’re trying to convey instead. Those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) tend to think visually so if they don’t seem to understand what you’re saying, they might find it easier to parse out the same message if you put it down on paper so they can see it.
Pay Attention To Non-Verbal Signals
As autistic children find it difficult to verbalise and comprehend language, they often develop various types of behaviours that signal how they feel or think. Certain motions or actions can tell you more than words so do keep a look out for them when you’re engage in a conversation. These include blinking, pointing, frowning, hitting, and more.
Don’t Bark Instructions
Autistic kids need more time to process verbal instructions and more often than not, the younger ones struggle to understand what’s required of them which makes them seem totally uncooperative. Bite-sized commands are the most effective. If you offer too many instructions simultaneously, you’ll run into trouble with your child. Bundle more than one task into a sentence and you will also not make any headway with an autistic child. Commands need to be short and meaning must be specific. If the child doesn’t understand, break it down even further.
When it comes to autistic kids, instructions need to be precise and bite-size.
Don’t Take Responses Personally
Children with autism may not react and respond in a way you usually expect. They may ignore you, throw a tantrum, have a meltdown or just simply walk away. It’s easy to get hurt and more so if you’ve had a really long day, but do your best to keep your emotions in check. The child may be trying to find ways to meet your expectations as well and responds in ways they only know how.
Don’t Insist on Eye Contact
It is a unsaid rule that you need to make eye contact when speaking to another person as this indicates your sincerity when engaged in a conversation. However with autistic kids, this is a tough ask. Some of them learn to look somewhere near your eyes through practice, but some never pick up this skill. The important thing is that you should never insist on eye contact. Don’t bow down to meet the child’s eyes either as for these kids, it is a difficult task.
Don’t Use Flowery Language
Be as literal as you can in your language because that’s how autistic children are – they take things literally. Don’t sprinkle your speech with sarcasm, idioms and worst yet, irony as this will send the child into a state of confusion.
Everyone has some form of coping mechanism especially in the face of stress and anxiety. Those with autism are similar in that they are compelled to do unusual things like flap their hands, jump around, constantly blink their eyes or make strange noises. These behaviours are actually ways that help to calm them down when they feel overwhelmed.
Older children tend to feel more conscious about their behaviours so it’s crucial not to stare at them. There’s no need to curb these behaviours or document them in any way. Don’t judge, don’t stare. Just be there to support them.
SUPPORT AND RESOURCES FOR AUTISM IN SINGAPORE
Early Intervention Programmes (EIP) and Special Needs Centres
Early intervention plays a crucial role during the diagnosis of autism in children. Programmes include speech therapy, sensory integration therapy, physical therapy as well social skills training. These programmes are best suited for children around 2 to 3 years of age.
Below are centres that offer early intervention programmes:
- WeCAN Early Intervention Programme
- Rainbow Centre Early Intervention Programme
- SBCC Early Intervention Programme
- Singapore Brain Development Centre (SBDC) Early Intervention Programme
- Bridging the Gap Early Intervention Programme
Schools and Student Care Centres
Autistic children in early childhood or adolescent years can benefit from being enrolled in schools that specifically cater to individuals with special needs. The features of autism-centric schools and student care centres revolve around special education services, speech services, as well as tailored behavioural plans.
Below are several schools in Singapore that specialise in autistic-centred learning:
- Pathlight School
- Eden School (Formerly known as the Autism Association Singapore)
- Grace Orchard School
- Rainbow Centre
- St. Andrew’s Autism Centre
Day Activity or Care Centres for Adults
There are many Day Activity Centres across Singapore tailored for adults with special needs. These community-based facilities provide those aged 16 and above with the necessary care and skills training they need to live independently despite their specific conditions.
Here are some day activity centres in Singapore for adults:
- SPD Day Activity Centre
- Eden Centre for Adults
- St. Andrew’s Autism Centre — Day Activity Centre
- Metta Day Activity Centre
Other Centres and Resources
- Neuro-Behavioural Clinic at Institute of Mental Health
- Autism Resource Centre
- Autism Partnership Singapore
- Autism Recovery Network
Credits: AutismSTEP, Healis Autism Centre on Instagram