April is National Autism Awareness Month. Chances are your child knows someone – a classmate, a friend’s sibling, etc. – who has autism spectrum disorders. Hopefully by helping your child understand what autism is, you will help to alleviate any fears and answer any questions he may have. And, perhaps, help him show more patience and kindness to a peer who has autism or another related disorder.
What Does Autism Mean?
People usually call it autism (say: aw-tih-zum), but the official name is autism spectrum disorders. Why? Because doctors include autism in a group of problems that kids can have, including Asperger syndrome and others. These problems happen when the brain develops differently and has trouble with an important job: making sense of the world.
Kids with autism often can’t make connections that other kids make easily. For example, when people smile, you know they feel happy or friendly; when people look mad, you can tell by their face or their voice. But many kids who have autism spectrum disorders have trouble understanding what emotions look like and what another person is thinking. They might act in a way that seems unusual, and it can be hard to understand why they’re doing it.
A kid with an autism spectrum disorder might:
- have trouble learning the meaning of words
- do the same thing over and over, like saying the same word
- move his or her arms or body in a certain way
- have trouble adjusting to changes (like trying new foods, having a substitute teacher, or having toys moved from their usual places)
Imagine trying to understand what your teacher is saying if you didn’t know what her words really mean. It is even more frustrating if a kid can’t come up with the right words to express his or her own thoughts, or tell a parent what he or she needs or wants. Sometimes this can make a kid very upset and frustrated. You can be a friend to a kid with autism by showing a little kindness and patience. If you have any questions, speak to your parents or your teacher.