Five Tips for Working with Children with Autism
Details: Written by Benjamin Atkinson
Regardless of your role, working with children with autism can be incredibly rewarding.
You can make a huge difference to the lives of these children and feel a real sense of accomplishment when making progress with them.
Whether you’re a social worker, healthcare practitioner or teaching assistant, we’re bringing you five useful tips to help you work with children with autism!
Expect Anxious Parents
Working with children with autism often means working with their parents too. Any parent would be anxious leaving their child with a stranger, but parents of children with autism will be especially anxious as their child will have particular needs and will be vulnerable in many ways.
So, don’t be surprised if parents are nervous and demanding when leaving their child with you. Instead of shying away from it, embrace it! Parents will have more insight into caring for their child and may provide useful tips that you may not have thought of. It may be a little intimidating at first but try to listen to all of their input and use it to perform to the best of your ability.
Read Great Blogs about Raising and Working with Children with Autism
We all know that textbooks and peer-reviewed research are essential resources that help keep your knowledge and skills up to date. However, sometimes it can be very useful to seek out less conventional sources of knowledge.
There are many blogs out there about raising and working with children with autism that can help you in your role. Not only do these blogs offer a more informal and human view of working with children with autism than formal case studies, but they also offer treasure troves of interesting and useful insights that may not be included in formal research.
Speak in Simple, Concrete Sentences and Use Visuals
As you know, language can be a stumbling block for many children with autism. The level of abstraction involved in many modes of speech which we often take for granted – including metaphor, metonym, simile and allusion – just don’t compute for children with autism. They tend to communicate best with far more literal and concrete modes of communication.
When speaking with children with autism, it can help to speak as clearly as possible. Avoid using rhetorical questions or long, complex sentences, especially when you are trying to provide instructions. Instead, break up what you say into small, short sentences. For instance, if you were to say something like, “If you brush your teeth and change your clothes, we can have lunch and go out, right?” this might introduce too many potential complications. It would be better to say “Go upstairs. Take off your socks. Put on the clean socks. Go to the bathroom. Get the toothpaste out of the medicine cabinet. Squeeze some toothpaste onto the brush. Brush your teeth….” and so on.
Here’s a great video from Asperkids about how to appropriately break down your instructions.
It is also helpful to have images at hand in order to reinforce and support your efforts to communicate and instruct. Here is a list of visual supports and guidance on how to use them.
Be Aware of Common Sensory Issues
The filtering mechanism in the brains of children with autism works differently in assimilating the senses of touch, smell, sound, taste and sight. Some of their senses may be extremely sensitive and they may find seemingly routine events fascinating or distressing.
Because of the differences in processing sensory information, children with autism will often have difficulties with movement and coordination.
Such difficulties can manifest in the following ways:
- Repetitive behaviours such as spinning, head banging or flapping of hands (‘stimming’)
- Poor coordination or handwriting
- Poor eye contact
- Having a short attention span
- Avoidance of touch
- Clumsiness and lack of balance
- Lack of body awareness
- Fear of movement
- Fear and anxiety of new situations and changed routines.
The National Autistic Society provides a great resource on the different kinds of sensory issues that individuals with autism can experience, along with tips and further reading, here.
Autism presents very differently in girls and boys
What many of us imagine autism to be is actually how autism presents in boys. Autism, in fact, presents very differently in girls.
For a long time, autism was thought to be a condition unique to boys, and we did not recognise the symptoms in girls, mistaking them for personality traits. It is now thought that girls tend to be better at hiding the outward signs of autism. They tend to have an easier time maintaining eye contact and tend to be more socially motivated. This allows them to a pass as neurotypical.
To compound the difficulty, girls with autism don’t tend to have the same repetitive and restricted behaviour that would be associated with a traditional autism diagnosis. For instance, where a boy with autism might fixate on a train schedule, a girl might develop an excessive interest in horses, which is not unexpected in girls. But, the extent of the interest exhibited by this girl might be missed, be better hidden or be suppressed.
Signs of autism in girls can include:
- Heavy reliance on other children to guide and speak for them
- Passionate, restricted and specific interests, often in narratives and imagined worlds
- Unusual sensitivity to sensory challenges
- Conversation restricted to limited topics of interest
- Difficulty moderating feelings when frustrated
- Unusual depression, anxiety and moodiness
- Difficulty making and keeping friends
- Often described as quiet or shy.
Understanding how autism manifests differently in girls can help you better care for girls with autism who are under your care and help you identify girls who potentially have autism.
Access Distance Learning Courses in Autism
The Skills Network believe that anyone involved with the care and development of children with autism should be able to access professional training in autism.
We provide a range of accredited distance learning courses in Understanding Autism, including a fully funded course.
For more information, or to enrol onto a course today, please click on the links below:
- Level 2 Certificate in Understanding Autism (fully funded)
- Level 3 Certificate in Understanding Autism.
This blog was written in collaboration with our awarding organisation partner Training Qualifications UK.