Recently, I was contacted by a cousin of one of my clients who had a few questions about working with kids who have autism, because he is doing a presentation to his 6th grade class about his cousin. Okay, how adorable is that? I was more than happy to answer his questions from a speech therapist’s point of view.
Check out these answers as they are a good discussion topic with your children about their classmates.
How did you start working with kids with autism?
As a speech pathologist, I work with many children with a variety of needs that impact some form of their communication skills. Children with autism may have difficulty with the way they produce speech sounds or the way they process spoken and/or written language. For some children with autism, it can also be challenging to understand how to play with others and have a conversation with people. Since speech pathologists have knowledge and training in all of these areas of communication, we often work with children with autism and their families. It is a joy and a blessing to work with this community.
How is working with a child with autism different than working with other children?
Honestly, it really is not that different than working with any other child. Each child with autism is their own individual. While there are often some similarities between children with autism, no two are alike. As with any child, you need to get to know them as an individual and provide treatment that takes into account their strengths and targets areas for growth. For example, when you look at a class I bet no two children look exactly alike, have the same interests, learning styles and/or strengths and weaknesses. We are all unique in who we are, what we like and how we learn. This is the same for children with autism, as well.
What is the main challenge of working with a kid with autism?
I don’t think there is anything challenging in relation to autism specifically. I think the hardest piece as a speech therapist is finding the “just right” approach for each child in therapy. By that, I mean finding the right level to push a child to reach their goals without making speech therapy too hard, frustrating or boring. This is true for all kids that I work with and not just children with autism. I want to make sure all of my students feel loved, supported, and encouraged while reaching their goals at the same time.
What is the best idea you can give family members of a child with autism to help them at home with their communication?
Continue to find ways to connect and interact with your child that is meaningful to them and your family. Build, teach, and encourage your child’s unique strengths so she continues to grow in her confidence. If your child does have speech and language goals to work on at home, set aside some structured time to work on those goals often and help them practice those goals in a variety of settings. Be patient and understanding, as communication can be a challenge for kids with autism and know your child is trying their hardest to succeed.
What’s your advice to children for interacting with classmates with autism?
Be an includer! Invite your classmate with autism to play and hang out with you on a regular basis. Even if they seem quiet or not interested, most children with autism really do want friends and to be surrounded by their peers. Sometimes, you may or may not know if someone has autism. It is not always obvious. So as an includer, keep an eye out for those classmates that are often by themselves, get teased or look like they might need a friend. And really, looking out for those signs should apply to any kid, whether they have autism or not. Everyone wants to feel included and loved so keep that in mind for every kid in your class.
Parents or teachers who have kids with autism, what are your suggestions or feedback? I’d love to hear them!
P.S. I did a similar Q&A about speech therapists in general, and what to look for in a good one, and signs of a possible speech delay. It’s available here.