Every kid is different. So is every individual with autism. But if you’re looking to connect with a child living with autism, Ellen Notbohm, author of Ten Things Every Child With Autism Wishes You Knew, and the mother of an autistic son, says keeping these things in mind can help.
My senses don’t work like yours. For a child living with autism, the sensory impressions of daily life—noises from machines, , the flickering of fluorescent lights, cooking smells— “can be downright painful,” Nothbohm writes. Remember, a world that seems unremarkable to you may be overwhelming to them.
I’m a concrete thinker. “Idioms, puns, nuances, inferences, metaphors, allusions and sarcasm are lost” on children with autism, Nothbohm writes. Instead, communicate with literal language.
I’m a visual thinker. Children with autism have a harder time absorbing spoken words. But they can study visual information until they really understand it. So “show me how to do something rather than just telling me,” Nothbohm writes. “Lots of patient practice helps me learn.”
I have many ways to communicate. Words are not always the best way for a child with autism to interact or convey his or her needs. “But be alert for body language, withdrawal, agitation, or other signs,” Nothbohm writes. “They’re there.”
Focus on what I can do, not what I can’t. Just like anyone else, it’s hard for children with autism to learn when they’re made to feel like they’re not measuring up. But “look for my strengths and you will find them,” Nothbohm writes. “There is more than one right way to do most things.”
Help me join in. Children with autism may seem as if they don’t want to participate in social activities. But in fact, they may just be unsure about how to join in. “Teach me how to play with others,” Nothbohm writes. “Encourage other children to invite me to play along. I might be delighted to be included.”
I’m more than my autism. “If you think of me as just one thing,” Nothbohm writes, “you run the danger of setting up expectations that may be too low.” The reality? “Neither you nor I yet know what I may be capable of.”
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