Seventeen ways of engaging a child who has autism


Want to help make your service more inclusive for children who have autism?

Here are 17 simple suggestions from Autism Queensland:

  1. Work closely with parents
    Let mum and dad know you want to help their child and ask for any reports or assessments that will give you insight into their child’s behaviour.
  2. Celebrate the child's strengths
    There are undoubtedly positive things this child does more often or better than other children. List the child’s strengths and celebrate them.
  3. Imagine the world as they see it
    Many children with autism understand visual cues better than verbal ones. Pictures and drawings might help the child understand instructions better than words. The more the child understands what is going on, the calmer they will be.
  4. Ask for help
    Resources and funding are available to services to help them be more inclusive of children with a diagnosis of autism.
  5. Create a retreat.
    When a child with autism becomes over-stimulated by the environment or stressed through changes in routine, they can quickly go into a state of hyper-anxiety. It will help the child recover at his or her own pace if there is a quiet, non-stimulating area they can retreat to.
  6. Mark your spaces
    A child with autism will understand activities better if they occur in clearly defined sections of the room. It could be a mat in the listening area, a corner for reading, a board that charts moods or weather, or a room segmented into colours for different activities. Remember to add visual aids for understanding such as photographs, symbols or drawings. All children will benefit from this.
  7. Make a plan
    Because each child with autism is unique, educators need to develop behaviour support plans for that particular child. Your plan will identify the child’s triggers and resulting behaviours. It will also outline practical alternatives and how they can be managed, taught and be reinforced.
  8. Think about personal space
    Children with autism need their personal space more than most. Other children might have to be told that this child doesn’t like to be touched. Story time seating might have to be rearranged. Play might have to be side-by-side rather than face-to-face.
  9. Look forward together
    Children with autism tend to avoid eye contact. That’s ok. Perhaps you could practice looking at the same things together. This is less overwhelming for the child and will help build their communication skills.
  10. Point out interesting things
    Young children with autism do not point to things as much as other children. Pointing is communication and should be encouraged, where appropriate.
  11. Imitation games
    Children with autism might avoid joining in a new game until they are sure how it works. Watching other children play or even a video recording of the game might make them more inclined to join in.
  12. Get their attention
    Children with autism might not follow instructions on request. You may have to kneel close to them and say their name first. If that doesn’t work, try mirroring their actions. Learning to copy (or 'mirror') is another building block of communication.
  13. Take turns
    Communication also involves taking turns. Turn the mirroring game into a turn-taking game. It can start with poking out your tongue or rolling a ball. Gradually build on the game until it happens within a group.
  14. Break it down
    Keep your instructions simple. Break them down into simple sentences and deliver them in easy-to-follow stages.
  15. Stay positive
    Say what you want the child to do, rather than what you want them to stop doing. Instead of ‘no running’, say ‘walk please’.
  16. Pick and stick
    Most objects can have several names, eg. chair, seat, stool. Choose one and try to use it consistently. If you have to repeat an instruction, say it exactly the same way the second time. It will help the child process your request.
  17. Wait for it
    Sometimes an answer takes time. Wait five or 10 seconds for the child to reply to your question. Patience is powerful.
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Last updated 02 July 2021