Three Things You Can Do to Support Local Children with Autism
By Sandra Pierce-Jordan, PhD, BCBA-D
Executive Director & Program Director
As Autism Awareness Month comes to a close, it’s a great time to remember that children with autism and their families need our support year round. Here are three things we can all do to make a difference:
First, remember that children with autism are children first. Even though a diagnosis is a big part of their lives, autism does not define them. The boy next door loves to play basketball because he loves to play–not because he has autism. The girl at your local pool loves to jump in the deep end over and over again because she loves to swim–not because she has autism. Get to know the unique and wide-ranging preferences and personalities of the children with autism in your life. You’ll find there’s much more to these children than a diagnosis!
Second, take time to understand the challenges that children with autism and their families face. Children with autism often do not look different than other children. But they experience difficulty with social interaction, communication, and behavior–and this affects how children with autism interact with the world. Because of his social challenges, a child with autism may fail to be a “good sport” when he loses a board game during a play date. Because of her communication challenges, a child with autism may grab an item out of your hands instead of asking for it with words. Because he depends on familiar routines, a child with autism may scream and hit his mother when she can’t find his preferred brand of cereal at the grocery store.
When a child with autism misbehaves, don’t assume that she’s spoiled or that her parents don’t care about good manners. It takes a lot of time, teaching and practice for children with autism to develop the skills that other children can learn quickly through observation and imitation. In the meantime, you can help children with autism and their families by showing some patience and understanding.
Third, remember that most families love to be included–including those families raising a child with autism. If you are unsure if a child with autism would want to attend your son’s chaotic and noisy birthday party at the local arcade, still invite that child! Let that child’s parents decide if this event is a match for their child. They may decline the invitation or only make a brief appearance at the party–but they’ll still appreciate your reaching out to their family. To feel included and welcome is important to everybody, and the families of children with autism are no different.
As you’ve probably heard during Autism Awareness Month this April, one in 68 children is diagnosed with autism in the U.S.. But do not be overwhelmed by that fact–be inspired. You can make a difference in the lives of children with autism and their families in our community. And your own life will be richer for it!
Sandra Pierce-Jordan has worked with children and adults with autism for over 25 years. She serves as Executive Director and Program Director of The Birchtree Center, a nonprofit based in Newington that serves children and youth with autism. Dr. Pierce-Jordan is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst at the doctoral level who holds a Ph.D. in School and Counseling Psychology from Northeastern University.