April is Autism Awareness Month, and it’s the perfect time to learn more about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and the people it affects. PBS Kids is getting involved by airing autism-related episodes of some of their most popular shows, including Arthur and Sesame Street, encouraging children to befriend peers who are on the autism spectrum. Affiliates of the Autism Society will hold special community events and activities throughout the month.
Of course, awareness of ASD doesn’t have to end with the close of April. There are things we all can do throughout the year to help make the world easier to navigate for individuals with ASD. Perhaps the most important thing is to learn how to communicate with people who are on the autism spectrum.
Although each individual is unique, the National Autistic Society (UK) recommends these ways of supporting communication with individuals who are on the autism spectrum:
- Say less. Use keywords and get right to the point of what you want to communicate. You can repeat and stress keywords if necessary. If the person has only recently begun to use verbal communication, it can help to use single words, accompanied by physical gestures, such as naming items as you present them to the person. Avoid “figures of speech” and metaphors.
- Say it slowly. Pause between phrases, to allow the person extra time to process what you are saying. Let them have time to respond.
- Gestures are good. Nodding and shaking your head, waving hello and goodbye, even miming an activity (such as eating food) when you offer them something—all of these visual methods can be helpful to those with ASD.
- Encourage face-to-face time. Being face-to-face with an individual who is on the autism spectrum lets them see your nonverbal cues more easily, making them easier to understand.
- Provide structure for interactions. Schedule activities with timers to encourage independence. Using a device like the Time Timer can allow an individual to anticipate transitions, and gives them an important visual representation of time passing during an activity. This lets them feel more in comfortable when the time comes to change activities.
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