How To Explain Autism To A Child

by | Jun 25, 2019

You’ve taught yourself and your spouse all about autism spectrum disorder. You’ve carefully explained ASD to your friends and family. So now comes the question, how do you explain autism to your child with autism?

Children with autism spectrum disorder become self‑aware at a similar age to their neuro‑typical peers.  We usually expect that a 2‑year‑old has an understanding of their surroundings, by this we mean they have an awareness of people, places, and things. Usually at this age they can express an opinion.  Frequently the word “no” presents itself at this age. 

When you think about it, for a two-year-old child to be able to refuse something; “No!” gets declared to the bowl of cereal. This behavior is a sign of intelligence. Remembering a previous circumstance (a bowl of cereal) and the outcome (unpleasant flavor/texture), requires great awareness. Then to put these memories together and to draw a potential conclusion about the event that has presented itself, that’s intelligence.   

When this self-awareness presents itself, the parent and adults in the child’s world can begin to help the child reflect on the consequence of their actions. When this self-awareness develops, the child can begin to reflect on how their actions affect others.  

This is an important stage that you are watching for as a parent of an autistic child.  This evidence of self-awareness (thanks to the command, “No!”) will allow you to begin to talk to your child about their behavior in relation to others. At this stage you can discuss what cousin Johnny’s brain and body needs versus your own child’s brain and body. 

“I see that Johnny needs to tell his mom something very loudly.  My ears hear that you are using a quiet voice.  Loud voices and quiet voices are all wonderful voices. Thanks for using a quiet voice at the right place and right time”. In this way you are role modeling acknowledging the different use of voice and doing so in a non-judgmental manner.

 As you gradually help your child process little bits of information you provide them about the medical condition called autism spectrum disorder (ASD), you must compliment that with clear thinking parenting. Your child with ASD is always learning, always picking up vital information about how to function in life. Try to use this same non-judgmental voice to discuss behaviors such as turn taking, sharing and how much space to give others when you play together.

 As your child learns what ASD means to them, they must have equal understanding of how they should treat others and treat themselves. Interact with your child in a manner that you expect the world to treat your child: with dignity and respect, and a bit of fun! Let your child experience those attributes in your home and they will work to create it as they mature in other social situations. Parenting is serious business. 

Your child will begin to pick-up on the appropriate distinctions between themselves and their friends at school. At a later time of your choosing, you can help find replacement behaviors for socially inappropriate actions. Consider this real life circumstance:

Sheena’s mother was pretty good at approaching the awkward conversations regarding her daughter’s inappropriate behaviors.

During the summer after 3rd grade, Sheena’s mom told Sheena that 4th grade girls don’t flap their hands.  The two of them found an alternative strategy involving fidgeting with a stretchy bracelet. 

Gradually, Sheena was mature enough to understand the distinction between her behavior and others. She could better participate in problem‑solving a solution. Sheena learned to channel unusual mannerisms into something more socially acceptable and one that only she knew would be age appropriate.


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