In 2006, I literally stumbled upon a job working as a behavior therapist for a child with Autism. It changed my world. I had a child with autism in my Sunday school class, and had been around children on the spectrum, but did not understand the intricacies of the Autism Spectrum. When I started working with my first client, within the first few days, I knew it was for me. The challenge, the funny moments, the organized learning, the fun…it was for me. I loved these kids. I changed my major from Elementary Education to Child Development and Intervention and headed out to help families and children affected by Autism.
My first job out of college was at the DFW Center for Autism, which is now part of Easter Seals, then I moved to a private therapy 1:1 center, and am now teaching Special Education. I don’t know everything about Autism, I don’t know all the information out there. I do know, however, some things that help these children learn, that tickles and silly songs may be an effective reinforcer, but skittles will always work. I know that these kids are children first, and autistic second. They are boys and girls who are smarter than most, but cannot communicate as effectively as typically developing children. I love their quirky interests, like the student I worked with that wanted to talk about plumbing, or my current student who loves exit signs and octagons. Not hexagons, octagons. Eight sides, people. I love their splinter skills, how a kid can count to 100 when they are two, but can’t label a door or banana. Relating is difficult for them, but it doesn’t have to be for us. I found this today, and I thought it was a perfect list to post in honor of Autism Awareness Month.
The Ten Commandments of Interacting with kids on the Autism Spectrum
1. Thou shall not yell when speaking to me.
My disability does not impair my hearing and I am extremely bright. Perhaps even brighter than you are.
2. Thou shall not ignore me, talk negatively about me, speak unnaturally slow, or ask questions to others in the room that pertain to me.
I can comprehend what you are saying just fine.
3. Thou shall believe in me and help me believe in my skills and self worth.
Note the good in me and do not merely point out my negative behaviors. Believe in me and I will believe in myself.
4. Thou shall not perceive me as dumb.
I am extremely intelligent. I do not learn in the same way as you, and maybe not as quickly as you expect me to. Have patience with me. Once I recall information, I never forget.
5. Thou shall not judge my behavior.
I can get overstimulated in certain environments. I may be hypersensitive to sound and loud noises may hurt my ears. Fluorescent lights are distracting for me. They have a humming noise, and can pulsate. All the noises in a room can blur together. Please make accommodations to help me.
6. Thou shall not be so quick to scold me.
Do not tell me that “I know what I did”. I do not. Tell me what my infraction was in a simple, concise manner. I want to please you, but I have difficulties inferring meaning within a vague statement. For instance, do not say please clean up your bedroom. Tell me exactly what you want, such as ‘Please make your bed and pick up your toys”.
7. Thou shall not compare me to others.
Please remind me, and note the talents that I possess. This increases my confidence and positive self worth. Learning disabled or not, we ALL have talents to contribute within society. I need you to help me realize what mine is. Believe in me and I will believe in myself.
8. Thou shall not exclude me from activities.
Please do not mimic me, ignore me, or bully me. Please invite me to play with you. It hurts my feelings when I am excluded. I like to run and jump in the playground, and be invited to birthday parties too. Grownups can help me make friends by encouraging other children to play with me. I can be a loyal friend if you get to know me.
9. Thou shall give me choices.
I do not like being ordered about any more than the other children. Give me choices so I know you value my capabilities and opinions. Make them simple and concise. Present two options or so. I get confused when too many questions or directions are given at one time due to my processing speed. For instance, ask me if I would like to wear my blue sweater or green one, rather than asking which sweater I would like to wear.
10. Thou shall not judge me by my diagnosis, but by my character.
I am an individual, just like other children. As my son used to say, “Mom my name is John (name changed for his anonymity) not Asperger’s”. A profound statement I would say.