How the world is viewed and experienced is different for a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Children with ASD have a different method of learning, interacting and communicating, Mary-Ann Bedwani, Service Co-ordinator with Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) Building Blocks says.

Early intervention is important to explicitly teach children life skills, particularly language skills, as children with ASD find it difficult to learn through observation and generally lack the internal motivation to communicate. Teaching the purpose of communication, particularly through play, is vital, Ms Bedwani says.

A positive approach to communication is used with children. Ms Bedwani recommends giving  instructions telling a child what to do rather than what not to do. For example; instead of saying “don’t run “, say “walk”. Children cannot process the whole instruction, which is interpreted as not listening. Give children enough time to respond, particularly to questions, as children with ASD need extra processing time.

Language is essential to help children with ASD manage their emotions and expressions.  Children need to be given the language to express themselves, Ms Bedwani says. For example; If a child is having a tantrum say “Are you angry”, during play say “This is fun”. Model the right words to use at certain emotional states and pitch it at a child’s communication level.

Visual supports or signs are used alongside language to help explain the expectation to a child and enable them to communicate a message back by choosing a picture of what they want, she explains. Visual supports are particularly important in an educational setting. In a busy environment, when instructions are given to the group, a child with ASD can get lost. They need visual routines to understand what happens in a day. Visual supports show a child what to do by looking at a picture and to be prepared for what comes next.

“Visual prompts can be used to show a child where to sit, what to do and what to expect,” Ms Bedwani says.

Stories are an important resource for educators and parents to explain social expectations and to teach appropriate emotional responses to behaviour. It is also a tool for other children to understand ASD.

Ms Bedwani advises educators and parents to be open minded about the characteristics of ASD, to understand what Autism is, a child’s individual needs and cater accordingly.

“Often what adults want for a child is not actually what they want or can cope with,” she says.

Parents and educators should identify specific priorities and set realistic goals and expectations, based on a child’s likes, dislikes and sensory sensitivities.  

“A collaborative approach (involvement and inclusion between allied health professionals, families and educators), is the most successful in achieving the best outcome for a child,” she suggests.