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Teaching kids about Autism is important because not everyone is the same and children need to learn to treat everyone with kindness. Even people they don’t understand.
Autism Awareness for Kids
Running a home daycare has many facets and teaching kids to be kind and get along with others is an important part of preparing kids for school and especially life. Not every child is the same neurologically. We all have differences. And teaching kids to understand and accept that prepares them well.
Explaining autism to children who aren’t on the spectrum can be challenging. Non-autistic people struggle to empathize with autistic people, and vice versa, due to differing life experiences.
Non-autistic children may need live, everyday examples when you’re teaching them about autism. It’s difficult to empathize with someone that is different. But it starts with being open, honest, and willing.
Teaching peers about autism
Here’s how to teach your non-autistic kids about their autistic peers.
1. Encourage questions and curiosity. Despite the progress made by self-advocating autistic people, the majority of the world is unaware of what autism actually is. The general consensus of non-autistic individuals perceive autism as a bad word, an illness, and a negative, in addition to an intellectual disability.
Autism is not an intellectual disorder; it’s a different neurotype. The brain processes information differently, and autistic people perceive the world differently than non-autistic people. They hear and see more than their non-autistic peers. One example could be the different sounds electricity makes when you’re charging your phone.
Those differences aren’t bad, but they’re viewed as bad because they are misunderstood.
To raise a generation of non-autistic individuals who respect their autistic peers enough not to infantilize or bully them, allow space for questions.
2. Prepare for discomfort. Autistic people behave in a way that their non-autistic peers naturally find weird and don’t understand. Repetitive movements, or stimming, may result in staring, pointing, or fear. Most stimming is harmless, not something to be feared.
However, people fear what they don’t understand. People also dislike being uncomfortable. Children are no different.
Instead of telling the autistic stimming child to stop swaying from side to side while they sit cross-legged on the floor, consider the situation at hand:
- Is the autistic child physically touching the uncomfortable child when they stim?
- Are they hurting themselves?
- Are they destroying property?
If the answer is no to the above questions, leave the autistic child alone. Self-regulatory behaviors are vital traits of autism, and the child might not even realize they’re stimming.
The uncomfortable child needs to learn how to manage their discomfort when someone does something they find annoying. If it doesn’t personally affect them, teach them to mind their own business.
Forcing an autistic child to stop stimming does two things:
- Perpetuates non-autistic expectations of autistic people, who are taught to take responsibility for how they make other people feel.
- Teaches the non-autistic person that other people are responsible for ensuring their comfort and managing their emotions.
Obviously, neither of these are good for either type of person. Teaching kids that not everyone is exactly the same helps them and their peers.
There can be two types of autistic individuals:
- Sensory avoider, or generally sensory sensitive, triggered by loud noises or certain sounds. Doesn’t like tight or scratchy clothing or other issues.
- Sensory seeker, needing sound to calm down, loves weighted blankets or certain tight clothing, etc.
3. Use appropriate language per their development stage to articulate differences. Non-autistic kids make eye contact. It’s often a telling sign that a child might be autistic because non-autistic people need eye contact to feel seen, heard, and loved.
Many autistic people find eye contact torture. A saying in the autistic community is You can have my eye contact, or you can have me listening to you. You cannot have both. In autism, eye contact can be difficult due to how the autistic neurotype process information.
Non-autistic, neurotypical kids are less likely to be paying attention when they don’t have eye contact. Autistic and similarly neurodivergent kids are more likely to be paying attention when their eyes are wandering all over the place.
Non-autistic peers of autistic kids are likely to perceive the autistic peer as ignoring them, and may even tattle. Use these opportunities for teaching moments. Other differences between autistic kids and their peers without autism:
- echolalia (repeating spoken/verbal words and sounds by other individuals or things)
- being unaware of how they feel (happy, sad, cold, hot, etc.)
- few expressions and/or facial expressions not matching expressed emotions
Books about autism for kids
Books can always help kids learn about things. Books about autism are a great way to help preschoolers understand differences in people and further our teaching kids about autism. Here are some of our favorites:
Autism doesn’t make someone weird or less than others. Since autism is not an intellectual disorder, being autistic doesn’t mean someone is less smart than a non-autistic person.
Helping non-autistic kids find common ground with their autistic peers will help them make friends. Autistic kids tend to befriend kids who share special interests. They are often bullied by those who think their special interests are “dumb”.
Many adults bully those with differences too, so teaching kids young that different is not bad helps everyone, even future generations. Because autistic children and other children with neurodiversity should not be the only ones taught how to fit in with others. We should take teaching kids about autism seriously. Neurotypical children should be taught how to accept and show kindness to kids that have a hard time fitting in as well. It takes all of us to make a change.
For more ideas about how to help kids get along, check these out: