On my Facebook page, I asked "As a parent of children who do not have ASD, or as a person who has little or no knowledge of ASD, what do you most want to know/understand about Autism?". I've written two posts already responding to some of the questions people asked. This post will respond to those who wanted to know about how to teach their non Autistic kids about Autism, and how to support ASD kids who visit their home to spend time with their nonASD kids.
How do I support my kid's friends with ASD when they visit our home?
I can't answer this for every ASD kid, as they are all different. I bet any mum of an ASD kid would love you to ask this question to their face, though!! I love this question! It speaks of an honest desire to support in a real and practical way. I would be much less nervous about how much debrief and wind down time my kids would need when they get home from a visit if the parent who will be with them is armed with some tips from me that I know they've really listened to!!
For my kids, the things that help them cope better in an unfamiliar environment are
- Knowing where they can seek out some quiet time if they need it, and trying to keep things simple to avoid sensory overload from too much noise and sensory stimulation.
- Knowing that if they have a problem there is a person they can go to who will listen to them and help them
- Knowing that if they need me they can ask to call me and will be allowed to
- If there is a dispute they need to have time to calm before talking about it. They need to know that they will be listened to.
- They need a balance of quiet and energetic activities. The quiet stops them becoming overstimulated, the energetic allows them a chance to release stress in an appropriate way.
- They need you to be a bit more alert than if you have other kids over, because if you are paying attention you will notice the signs of escalating anxiety (raised pitch or volume of voice, increased pacing or restless behaviour, seeming to be upset over little things) and you can redirect the activity to allow them a chance to calm down before they lose control and have a meltdown or lash out, which is embarrassing for them.
- You can invite me to come too, for the first couple of times, so I can help my child learn their way around your homes rhythms and conventions and you can observe how I interact with them and learn from me!
Two people asked similar questions-
How do I coach kids who aren't 'on the spectrum' of how to be respectful and give helpful feedback to their friends?
When discussing acceptance of ASD kids with our own kids (ie children may notice that ASD kids are 'different' and outside of their understanding of 'normal' behaviour), is it useful to name the disorder, or speak in more general terms? I guess the question goes to labelling vs non-labelling within society.
Many Autistic adults have written about labels and the correct way to refer to autistic people. Even some Autistic children have spoken out about it. I have asked L a few questions about this too, and you can listen to his answers by clicking below.
(This is me "interviewing" my 12 year old son about having Aspegers Syndrome. It is completely unscripted and unrehearsed, so you could hear his real thoughts and first responses without me coaching him. The pictures you see are the board game he is working on as we talk (you'll hear the background noise of him cutting and drawing). The game is one of his special interests at the moment, and is a very complicated turn-based, role-play board game that he has invented on his own.)
The key things I took away from this chat with L are that
1. He doesn't see Aspergers as devastating,
2. He realises that he thinks differently than everyone else,
3. He still says he feels the same as everyone else.
4. He likes his friends knowing he has Aspergers, and
5. He doesn't want anyone to know he has Aspergers if they are going to use his differences against him.
I think it is important for kids who do not have ASD to realise this. An Autistic kid is like them in so many ways- they want friends, they have interests they like to share with others, their feelings get hurt. But they do think differently than others and so may behave in ways that seem different or awkward. L doesn't mind people he trusts knowing he has Aspergers, but- like any other kid- he fears his differences being used against him. I do think using labels is fine, even a good idea, as it helps people to understand that ASD kids aren't just being naughty/rude/difficult/selfish, but if you are going to tell your kids that someone has Aspergers/Autism/ASD you need to make sure they understand that, just like them, Autistic kids don't want to be singled out as different. They want to be accepted for who they are. They want friends who share their interests and like to hang out with them for their quirks, not in spite of them, or to make fun of them. L would probably not be at all fazed if one of his friends asked "why do you do that?" as long as the question was asked in genuine desire for an honest answer and not as a taunt. One thing I know L likes is if his friends use the words he likes. I have recently realised these words class as a vocal stim, and he uses them to self soothe. If L walks into a room and says "hi Mum" it really makes him happy if I reply "Hello banana". I have heard L's one good friend use banana as a way to make L laugh too, and love that he figured out that as a way to connect with my boy, and that he does it with out malice. Two of L's cousins have also realised "banana" is a good way to connect with L and he loved that they wrote it on the inside of his Birthday card last year! It is now something of a running joke between them that keeps us all giggling!!
In my next few posts I'll be bringing you the answers to some questions I've asked of parents of Autistic kids about their experience of Autism!