Understanding and Embracing Autism

Understanding and Embracing Autism

Understanding and Embracing Autism

By:   Brian R. Grandjean PhD.

January 11, 2022

What is Autism?  For most of us, what we know about Autism we tend to learn from the media and perhaps watching those we know personally who have the disorder.

In most cases, we may see a child who looks completely normal at first glance, but then shows significant sensory issues, such as not liking to be touched or being sensitive to noise.  And yet, in other situations, we may see a child who has an incredible knowledge of specific items or topics, such as garage door openers, the bones of the human body, the entire period table of elements or even horses.

But what is Autism really?  What is at its heart and what makes up our fundamental understanding of the disorder?

Autism Traits

In general, Autism is comprised of four broad traits:

  1. having difficulty socializing/ communicating,
  2. possessing sensory issues (being overly sensitive to sound or touch),
  3. typically having high levels of anxiety, and
  4. often being isolated due to lack of social skill.  

For those who have Level 1 Autism or are said to be High Functioning, they have the added challenge of being aware that they don’t seem to fit in to their surrounding environment.  This is also true to a lesser degree for those who have Level 2 Autism.  

So how can we as a community help child on the spectrum? 

Identify and Nurture the Child’s Strengths.   

If they love to build with Legos, encourage them to build, take photos of what they construct, and help enhance their communication by having them explain how what they built works or why they built it the way they did.  Challenge the child to take a video of what they built and put it on their own YouTube channel. If the item they made is of Lego bricks help them sign on to https://ideas.lego.com/  and post their Lego construct for other Lego enthusiasts to see.

 If their explanations seem a bit off or the wording is slightly incorrect, then use the sandwich technique. You start with a positive statement, gently mention the correction, and end with a positive statement. For example, if the child has built a Lego spaceship and stated they used a “binder piece” (AKA a hinge) so the cockpit will open, make a positive statement about the spaceship construction such as how the engines really looks amazing.  Follow the positive statement with a gentle correction, like how to replace “bender piece” with the word “hinge,” and end the communication with a positive statement, such as telling the child how creative the construction of the spaceship was.  

Highlight the Child’s Strengths.

Often our children see themselves as less than they really are.  They have so many challenges to overcome that when they do succeed, they often fail to notice their success.   

When you see a child on the spectrum succeed, be it in getting good grades, building a model train, constructing a palace in Minecraft, or telling you about a complex subject such as math or science, exaggerate the positive tone in your voice and add detail to your responce.  Use phrases like: “Wait a second, you’re telling me that you know the whole periodic table?  O my gosh!!  I still don’t know that table!  So, remind me what Fe is (the abbreviation for iron)?”

Acknowledging our children’s strengths and reinforcing their accomplishments will go a long way to helping many of those with Autism succeed as they grow and mature. 

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