Interacting with a Child Who Has Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder. It affects how children
interact and communicate with others. The disorder is called a spectrum disorder because of
the wide range (spectrum) of severity. Some children on the spectrum may be able to
talk. Eventually they may be able to eventually live on their own. Others may not.
Children with ASD start to show symptoms at an early age. The symptoms continue during
childhood and adulthood. Healthcare providers don’t know why some children develop
ASD. It may be a combination of genes they are born with and something in their environment
that sets off those genes.
Children with ASD have trouble relating to other people. They have trouble making
eye contact. They often withdraw into themselves. They may seem uninterested in relating
to family members.
Other children with ASD may be very focused on a topic they are interested in. They
may only want to talk about that topic in conversation. The problem is that they may
talk about it too long. Or they may talk only about that one subject. This can push
other people away.
If you are a parent or grandparent of a child with ASD, it can be heartbreaking if
you feel like you just can't connect with them. But learning more about these disorders
and what has helped others can help you and your relationship.
Breaking through the barriers of ASD
ASD has no cure. But there is hope through treatment. Many children with ASD can learn
to communicate and interact. Healthcare providers and mental health experts have learned
a lot about how to break through to these children.
Here are some things we know about children with an ASD:
They may not be able to understand your nonverbal communications. They may not react
to your smile or frown.
They take things literally. You need to be careful to say exactly what you mean. If
you hurry the child by saying "Step on it," don't be surprised if they ask what to
They may only be able to handle one thought or idea at a time. Keep conversations
focused and simple.
They may want to only talk about the one thing they are really interested in at a
given time. And they may want to talk about it over and over again.
They may see things differently than you do. You may not even notice ordinary sounds,
tastes, touches, smells, and sights. But these may be physically painful to the child.
Communication and interaction tips for ASD
There are no hard-and-fast rules on how to communicate with a child with ASD. But
many family members have had success with these tips:
Be patient. It often takes a child with ASD longer to process information. You may need to slow
down your conversation to their speed. Long pauses can be helpful.
Teach the child how to express anger without being too aggressive. Children with ASD should know that they don't have to hold their anger and frustration
Be persistent but resilient. Don't let your feelings get hurt if the child does not respond to you as you'd like.
Children with ASD may have trouble both showing and controlling their emotions. They
can be blunt in their responses. Don't take this personally.
Always stay positive. Children with ASD respond best to positive reinforcement. Be sure to talk about or
reward good behavior often. Be generous with compliments for good behavior.
Ignore irritating attention-getting behavior. A child with ASD may act badly at times to get you to focus on them. Ignoring this
behavior is often the best way to prevent it. Also talk about and reward the child's
good behavior often.
Interact through physical activity. Children with ASD tend to have short attention spans. This is especially true when
it comes to communicating. Running around and playing outside may be a better way
of sharing time together. It will also let them relax and feel calmer.
Be affectionate and respectful. Children with ASD often need a hug, just like other children. Sometimes they need
this much more than other children. But some children don't like to be touched at
all. Even light contact can distress them. Ask the child or caretaker before making
any physical contact. Respect their personal space. Never force physical affection
on an unwilling child.
Show your love and interest. Children with ASD may have trouble showing their feelings. But they still need to
know that you love them. Go out of your way to express your interest, caring, and
Learn from your child. Your child's special need and abilities may show you a way to look at the world that
you've never considered. As difficult as it may be on some days, relaxing, laughing,
and enjoying the unique gift that is your child can provide both you and your family
with many rewards.
Believe. A child with autism is first and foremost a child. They are a growing person with
unknown possibilities. Believe in what the child can do. Don’t define the child by
Take care of yourself. It’s OK to take a break. Join parent support groups. Or ask understanding family
and friends to care for your child so you can recharge. School psychologists and counselors
can also provide resources to help you.
It can be challenging to interact with a child or grandchild with ASD. But it's one
of the most important things you can do to help that child learn. Research shows that
early, frequent, and loving involvement of family members is one of the best ways
to help children with ASD.