Include people with autism in social activities
April 28, 2022
To the Eagle:
A recent letter published in The Eagle highlighting Autism Awareness for our community included this all-important statement, namely that “Individual treatment…based upon that person’s unique needs, enables those on the spectrum to maximize their independence and help secure the highest quality of life.” This caused me to wonder how we can all promote success in the lives of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and as a consequence, in their families too.
One key to unlocking the challenges and mysteries of ASD lies in recognizing and focusing on the individual’s strengths and unique interests. Having a special interest in something is a major part of the repetitive behavior that characterizes ASD. Your child, friend, neighbor, or student with ASD very likely has an intense interest in one or two particular subjects. For some, it’s cars, maps, trains, dinosaurs, music or numbers. For others, cartoons, sea animals, books, the iPad, Legos or the piano. Dr. Temple Grandin, a college professor with ASD, points out that special interests can be storehouses of attention, motivation and knowledge for a child.
A study by researchers at the Koegel Autism Center at UC Santa Barbara found that not only did focusing on a person with ASD’s preferred interests increase their communication and interaction with others, it also forged lasting friendships and connections which can be most challenging for individuals with ASD.
Another study, by Winter-Messiers (2007), showed that when children with ASD talked about their special interests, their behavior, communication and social and emotional skills improved. A child with limited verbal skills may need the support of alternative communication pictures or apps to talk about their special interest. Focusing on a special interest can help calm an anxious and upset child.
If you are not sure what your child’s special interests are, consider these questions listed in the Hansen Center article, entitled, What Makes Your Child "Tick"? Using Children’s Interests to Build Communication Skills. What makes your child smile and laugh? What gets and keeps your child’s attention? What gets your child excited? What are your child’s favorite things to do? What does your child work hard at doing? What “brings out the best” in your child? What gets your child to try new things? What does your child choose to do most often?
Special interests can be applied to teach self-help skills and social, communication, or academic behavior at school, at home and in the community. Remember that special interests can change over time and so it’s worthwhile to review the questions above every so often.
“Help people with autism to be included in social activities. By doing this people learn that individuals with autism are like everyone else and desire to have friendships.” Quote by Ron Sandison – Professor of Theology at Destiny School of Ministry. Advisory Board Member.