Our son Mateo’s birthday falls within the month of April which is Autism Awareness Month. In honor of his sixth birthday, we created a list of 6 effective ways to connect with children like Mateo. We hope these ideas are useful to you when making connections to children of all developmental stages.
Maya & Steven
1. When speaking, get down to eye level, preferably below a child’s gaze so that you are looking up at them. Some children with Autism are sensitive to dense crowds, lights, sounds, new faces and unfamiliar voices which can be overwhelming. You can help filter the sensory distraction by coming in closer proximity and kneeling down or sitting on the floor.
2. Slow down and use less words. Children with special needs process information at a different pace than you do. Adjust your cadence to give them a chance to catch up. Think here and now: use child-size language in the present moment. Keep in mind they hear you even though they may not be able to express it.
3. Your energy and tone of voice matter most. Some children, like Mateo, are overreactive to the sensory stimulation in their environment. Therefore, use a quieter, softer voice to promote calmness and engagement.
4. Wait for an authentic response rather than fill in the silence with words. Extended pauses and breaks in conversation are a natural part of relating to our children. You can help them develop their own ideas by patiently waiting for them to express themselves. When in doubt, wait ten seconds longer.
5. Use “positive opposites” when giving children support. Children with Autism often do things that require assistance or redirection. When providing help, tell a child what to do rather than what not to do. For example, instead of saying, “don’t grab the toys” try saying, “you can be next.”
6. Play is the way. The best way to connect with all children and especially those on the Autism Spectrum, is to engage in child-size play. Try imitating their ideas before you initiate your own. Our children want to know that you recognize their interests and share their ideas.