How to Better Understand
a Child With Autism
By Mikkie Mills
For most people, their lives aren't affected by autism, but some families are personally confronted with this disorder. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 68 children are born with autism, but, unless your child happens to be in that group, you may never understand exactly how this brain disorder affects children, families of those children, and the people who interact with that child.
A Closer Look at Autism
Autism is one of those conditions surrounded by mystery, because most people don't really understand how the condition affects children. Certainly, it's known that it's a mental disorder that affects childhood development, but, beyond that, people generally don't understand how it inhibits growth. In truth, autistic children typically lack good communication skills, experience difficulties in interacting with others in social settings, and have trouble adapting to their environment.
The severity of autism varies. There are many autistic individuals who adapt well and function in society. They typically develop normally with speech and intelligence factors intact. Others, however, are more deeply affected by autism. For these individuals, they may become mentally retarded and they can be mute or develop noticeable delays in speech. Autistic children can seem closed off and often develop rigid thought patterns or become set in doing the same activities repetitively.
How Can You Identity a Child with Autism?
One of the primary characteristics of autism is an exhibition of unusual or odd behaviors, resulting from the child's difficulty in adapting to different environments. The autistic individual is often attempting to express his or her feelings or may be trying to cope with a new situation, but the acts can seem unruly or odd to those unaware of the child's condition. A hypersensitivity to sounds or physical touch can elicit behavioral problems.
Another way in which autistic people differ from those who develop normally is in their ability to form and maintain social relationships. One area that causes the most problems is in the autistic individual's inability to read gestures and facial expressions, which makes up a good portion of communication for others. Because this inhibits their ability to understand others, autistic people typically seem cold and distant.
Additionally, verbal communication may also be affected. While some autistic patients speak normally, many do not. They may experience delays in communication or may not be able to speak at all. Even those who do seem to speak normally, their language skills aren't as well developed and may use unusual phrases and speak with a limited vocabulary.
How to Communicate with an Autistic Child
Due to the underdeveloped communication skills of an autistic child, communicating must be handled differently than with normally developed children. For instance, talking loudly from across the room, as teachers do when addressing an entire class, can present problems in understanding. Other than hearing his or her own name, the child is unlikely to understand instructions. Instead, the adult should address the autistic child personally and up close, making the instructions simple and easy to understand.
Additionally, autistic children take things literally, so phrases like "hold your horses" and "it's pouring cats and dogs" are not likely to be understood. Hyperbole will only confuse the child. Puns, jokes, and metaphors may also cause problems in communication.
Similarly, it may be difficult for others to understand an autistic individual, because they may not express themselves adequately. A lack of good communication skills means they can become frustrated, agitated, or extremely withdrawn. These are all signs that something is bothering the child.
The best way to help autistic individuals is to recognize their limitations and to be especially observant. Often, they may seem antisocial, when, in fact, they simply lack socialization skills. Helping them to develop social skills will go a long way toward ensuring they can function more fully in social relationships. Likewise, observing behavior patterns can help you understand how the child communicates and may lead towards a better of understanding between you and the autistic individual.