136 Helping your child be a friend to someone with Autism

Parenting Article No. 136
Knowing that a child has autism is rather like
knowing that they are seven years old or they love
footy. It is only a start! There is a lot more to
discover about them as an individual - they will have
a range of talents and interests as well as a unique
personality. If your child tells you about a classmate
who has Autism or Aspergers Syndrome, there are a
number of ways to help them understand how to
interact in the most positive way.
Within the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder
there are many characteristic behaviours but each
child will show them in different ways. Typically,
autism involves playing or behaving in ways that are
different from other friends. They might sit quietly
and not join in with other children very well. They
might not seem to understand general conversation.
They might make odd sounds while they talk or flap
their hands or jump around. They might be very
interested in a particular topic and only want to talk
about that. Some are clever, others find it difficult to
learn and need a helper in the classroom. Some
become very anxious about things that are different.
Friendly classmates will be a tremendous benefit to a
child with autism. They can both learn a great deal
from each other. The most important thing is to let
the other child know you want to be his friend.
Your child will need to be patient and to understand
that the child with autism does not mean to be
different. Explain that he has trouble controlling his
behaviour because he has difficulty understanding the
world around him. He might be afraid of changes in
routine so it will really help him if your child can be
a buddy and show him the way to do things.
Explain to your child that their friend may not always
understand what people say straight away. They may
need a few minutes to “process” the words. It can
help to talk in short sentences and to show what you
mean by demonstrating the actions or drawing a
picture. Your child can teach the other one how to
play a particular game together before expecting
them to join a bigger group.
As with every friendship, children share common
interests. If your child loves football cards, he might
be in awe of his friend’s ability to remember all the
scores and statistics. Your child might use this
connection to guide their friend into some other
hobbies beyond the very narrow one they originally
Primary school children usually have a well
developed sense of fairness. This will help them to
understand that it is not fair for one child to be
“picked on” or teased. However, it takes some
courage to stand up for someone who is not “one of
the gang” so it will be important for your child to
have your support as a parent to do this. It will help if
you know the child and their parents yourself. This
can be done by inviting the child over to play after
school so that you can get to know each other. Then it
will be easier to talk about them as an individual with
your child. You will also be able to show an interest
in their area of expertise and learn from the parents
how best to deal with tricky behaviours.
There are some excellent story books about ways of
viewing differences between children:
Living with Max – Chloe Maxwell
Whoever you are – Mem Fox
Round Fish Square Bowl – Tom Skinner
All Cats Have Aspergers - by Kathy Hoopman
Local support information:
Parent to Parent support groups – contact
Strengthening Parent Support Worker at Gateways on
5221 2984
Websites that have helpful information are:
www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au see fact sheet
For a complete list of Regional Parenting Service articles go to the City of Greater Geelong website