Talking To Kids About Autism

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs over at AutismWonderland. 

Norrin with his friend Edenrose

Before Norrin was born, I never realized there were two kinds of kids: typical and aytpical. When Norrin was first diagnosed with autism, the doctor referred to him as atypical. To me, Norrin was just Norrin. His ‘atypical’ behavior was ‘typical’ to me. And in those early years of diagnosis, the differences seemed subtle.

Strangers were patient if Norrin didn’t speak or look them eye or if he jumped up and down, flapping his hands. And other kids Norrin’s age didn’t notice those things because they were still figuring stuff out themselves.

Norrin is now six and a half years old. He still doesn’t always speak, rarely will he look you in the eye and he still jumps up and down, flapping his hands. The differences between Norrin and his peers are becoming obvious. And kids his age and older are starting to notice. Sometimes they laugh. And sometimes they work hard to include him.

Norrin doesn’t have many “typical” friends (truth be told he doesn’t have many friends at all). But there is one little girl, Edenrose, whose company he enjoys. She’s a year younger than Norrin and thinks he’s hilarious. Edenrose tries to get his attention and sometimes she’s successful. And I know it’s only a matter of time before she starts to wonder about Norrin.

One of the challenges of raising a kid with autism is trying to get other kids – the “typical” kids – to understand autism. Okay, maybe this is my biggest challenge. Because the few times kids have asked me about Norrin, it hasn’t gone so well. I’ve read lots of books (including kids books) about autism, but it’s still hard for me to explain it in a way kids can understand.

I believe autism awareness is a two way street and I encourage parents to talk to their kids about autism. But if I have a hard time explaining it to kids – and I understand autism – I can’t expect a parent of a typical kid to get it right.

So that’s the dilema I’ve been facing: How do I talk to kids about autism?

And just like that, my question was answered via a blog post. Last week, Lizbeth Cole who blogs at Four Sea Stars, initiated a conversation that was long overdue. She walked into her son’s third grade class and talked about autism. Lizbeth didn’t make it complicated or overwhelming. She kept it short and simple. Lizbeth explained autism using terms kids could easily understand.

Lizbeth created a powerpoint presentation called, A Story about Autism and Being Different. And Lizbeth used video games as an example to get her point across. She explained to the class that most of their brains worked like one video game system, while her son’s worked like another. “You all process information one way, and Alex processes that same information in a different way. It’s not wrong. it’s not bad, it’s just different.”

And that room full of third graders got it. They asked questions and were eager to learn. Because all along, they knew Lizbeth’s son, Alex, was different. “They just didn’t know why. And they were afraid to ask…”

For the first time, I feel ready to talk to other kids about Norrin – whether they ask or not.

As autism parents, we spend hours working with our kids to understand typical behavior. I think we owe it to our kids, to help typical kids understand them.

How do you talk to kids about autism? I would love to know what works for you.

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  1. by Presley's Pantry

    On October 18, 2012 at 11:35 am

    I still have not crossed this bridge. I do tell his cousins who are a few years older than him to be carefu;l with him cuz he’s still little. I don’t think they will understand any other way for now. But I do intend on having a talk with htem in a year or so. My son is still figuring out his place and doesn’t have friends either…. :(

  2. [...] This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs over at AutismWonderland.  [...]

  3. by Monica

    On October 19, 2012 at 8:50 am

    Fantastic! Thanks for sharing her Powerpoint. What a valuable resource! Thanks for starting this conversation.

  4. by rachel

    On October 19, 2012 at 10:04 am

    Wow – Interesting. Never thought of the challenges of having to know what to say to other kids – in the hopes that will understand. Great post.

  5. by Erika

    On October 19, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    Where is the Powerpoint presentation “A Story about Autism and Being Different?” It seems the link has been removed. Where can I access this Powerpoint presentation?

  6. by Erika

    On October 19, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    I found the Powerpoint presentation “A Story about Autism and Being Different” at Ms. Cole’s blog at http://four-sea-stars.blogspot.com/2012/10/i-talked-to-bunch-of-third-gradersand-i.html. It’s really awesome! Thank you for sharing this link with us. I have learned a lot!

  7. by Bren @ Flanboyant Eats

    On October 28, 2012 at 8:32 pm

    Interesting points… I’m wondering how wonderful his little female friend will be when she realizes Norrin is just Norrin… I hope she’ll want for his friendship the same way.

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