As awareness of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) grows, and as more children are being diagnosed, it is likely that your child will have a classmate with autism. Your child may have questions about his fellow student with autism, but you may feel that you don’t know how to explain what autism is in an age-appropriate way.
Kids with autism need friends, too
There are many social learning differences associated with autism. Even though children with autism may have some special needs, it’s important that they have opportunities to develop relationships with their peers. Helping your child understand the learning differences of kids with autism may help your child be a better friend.
What your child should know about autism
Kids may be more comfortable with classmates who have autism when they understand these facts:
- Autism is a difference that’s hard to see. It is a difference in the way someone thinks. This difference in thinking can make it hard for someone with autism to talk with people, make friends and handle emotions—especially in the busy parts of the classroom and school.
- Even though there are differences, it doesn’t mean that your classmate with autism wants to be alone. There are many ways to be a good friend to your classmate with autism.
- You can be a good friend by:
- Playing alongside or sitting next to your classmate with autism.
- Offering two sets of play materials. For example, bringing two balls over to your friend and sharing one of them gives him a chance to watch how you play with the ball. He may try to imitate you.
- Be patient. It may take a few tries to find things you both like that you can do together.
Support your child’s efforts
Encourage your child to keep working toward a friendship with his classmate. Remind him that it’s important to give people second chances and not be discouraged if his classmate doesn’t respond at first.
Working to connect with people who are different is an important part of child development that benefits all children. Encouraging your child to take extra steps to include his classmate with autism will help him learn new things and be a better friend in general.
Children with autism are individuals
As you give advice, remember that all children with autism are different. Not all information will apply to every situation or child, but we hope it is useful for starting this important conversation. If you can, reach out to your child’s teacher or the parents of his classmate with autism for more specific ways you and your child can support their family.
We recognize that every child is unique and that the content of these articles may not work for everyone. This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. We hope these tips will serve as a jumping-off point for finding the best approach to helping a child with autism. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.