This is week two of tips on supporting children with autism through puberty and adolescence, devised by my colleague, Davida Hartman, Senior Educational Psychologist, along with the Psychological Society of Ireland.
Whether you are a parent, family member, teacher or other professional working with young people with autism we hope you will find these tips useful.
6. Teach the difference between public and private.
All children need to learn this, including places, body parts, conversations, behaviours and online information. Knowing this helps children behave appropriately and protects against abuse. However, be careful about hard and fast rules, remember to teach that rules can change over time and why. It makes sense to teach children that sex is a private topic only discussed with parents, but what happens when all of their peers are talking about it in the schoolyard? Avoiding such chat or worse, telling the teacher will be even more isolating for them.
7. Teach how to say ‘NO’.
While compliance is highly valued in special education, it does little to support a child’s safety skills. The first step to protecting yourself is to know your rights and to know that your body belongs to you, and that you have control over it and what you do with it.
8. give them independence Often, people get so used to making decisions and doing things for a child with special needs that they do so automatically. This inevitably leads to the child being less able to do things or make decisions for themselves. Instead, set up situations where the child can experience success. Allow them to do daily tasks independently, even if it takes them longer. Involve them in decisions about their lives. Give them meaningful choices every day.
9. Help develop friendships
To develop skills for adult relationships, teens need practice and support. However, people on the spectrum often need and enjoy time alone and may avoid social situations. This does not mean that they do not also want meaningful friendships or that they do not get lonely. Teach them social skills. Link them in with other similar children. Find socialising events where there is a common focus, e.g. the cinema. The internet can also be great for linking together likeminded people with obscure interests.
10. build self-understanding
Developing a healthy and realistic self-concept means understanding your own personal weaknesses as well as your strengths. Children on the spectrum have many fantastic qualities, including being honest, reliable and having a strong sense of social justice.
They need to learn that they are valuable human beings with valuable contributions to make to this world. However, they also need to learn about their diagnosis, the challenges that come with it, what they need to overcome these challenges, and how to go about getting them (e.g. being able to tell their teacher “I find it difficult to listen to you when that light is flickering, can we please turn it off?”.
This does not have to be done in one big difficult conversation. Start talking about difference early. Read books about autism with them geared for their age and ability level. Make links with groups like the Autism Self Advocacy Network. Introduce them (through books, TV or the internet) to role models who have a disability. One of the best things that you can do to develop your own understanding of autism is to read books by authors on the spectrum.