Autism Awareness Month: A Call to Compassion

By Jennifer Luchesi Long

April is Autism Awareness month, and a perfect time to teach your children about compassion in the classroom. Compassion and autism: How your child can change the world of school for an autistic child.

Parents with children on the autism spectrum become quickly involved in what autism is and how to attempt to manage it, but for parents whose children do not fall in this category, what does the growing number of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) cases mean to you and your child? It is an opportunity to teach your child compassion.

Chances are your child knows at someone from school who has autism. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, three to six children out of 1,000 will be diagnosed with some form of ASD. Compassion begins with understanding. Helping your child see what it is like for the students with autism will open the doors to your child becoming their friend.

Children with autism do not relate well to social cues; therefore, they tend to isolate themselves from others. However, they see other children enjoying friendships and desire a similar relationship—they just don’t know how. Understanding this and then taking baby steps in developing a social relationship with this child will mean the world to him or her. The following are some of the common characteristics of a child with autism:

– Easy irritability with changes in routine and expectations.
– Difficulty reading facial expressions.
– Difficulty reading social cues and understanding social norms.
– Poor eye contact.
– Uncomfortable with affection, including any kind of physical touches.
– Overstimulated by noises, smells and light.
– Fixation on a certain subject, topic or idea.
– Highly intelligent.
– Triggers. A child with autism can become upset over consistent things. Find out what the triggers are for the child.
– Everyone is different! Children with autism may exhibit all or some of these behaviors. Like all people, it is most important not to assume things about them based on our prejudices. Learn who your classmates are, what makes them tick, and then treat them accordingly. This sensitivity will make your child a leader in class.

Compassion in the Classroom

– See the world through their eyes. Help your child imagine how challenging a day at school must be for a child with autism. Appreciating how well their autistic peer does do in school given his social characteristics will help your child appreciate the student.
– Be proactive. Ask the teacher! The teacher has an intimate relationship with the children and parents in her class. Certainly she is aware of the things that help make each of her students tick. – Teach tolerance. Treat people with autism the way you would want to be treated, even if they do not know how to respond appropriately back.

Understanding others and their situation is the first step to being kind and compassionate. The challenges that these children create are significant and must be addressed with openness and clarity, but the humor, fun, and diversity that these children bless the classroom with is under represented and under appreciated. We will all benefit from the compassion required to help make the world of school a kinder place for children with autism.