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What is Autism: 3 strategies to understanding, accepting and assisting

When you see a child in the supermarket lineup frustrated and throwing a tantrum, do you automatically think that child is a brat, or the parent is not doing a good job? We need to understand that perhaps there is more going on. Perhaps that child is not understanding why there is a change in her routine and her anxiety has just sky-rocketed to a point that she does not feel safe and in control of herself and her surroundings.

Awareness is the first step to understanding, acceptance and then assistance. Awareness allows us to learn and teach empathy and inclusion, when sadly, research shows that of the more than 70% of children with autism who are taught in mainstream schools, over 40% of those are bullied. This needs to end.

What is Autism?

Autism, also referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a complex developmental disability existing from early childhood, that affects the development of a person's social skills, communication skills and behaviour. Autism is a very broad spectrum disorder and that means no two people with autism will have exactly the same symptoms, according to Medical News Today.

People with autism have challenges with non-verbal communication, social interactions and activities that include non-direct communication, such as play, sarcasm, and banter.

A person with Autism thrives from following routines and sticking to a set of behaviours. Changes in daily activities are not favourable and may be resisted. So it is important to give lots of notice and mental preparation before changing the routine.

Three Strategies for Working with Children with Autism:

  1. Build a Support Network for Your Child and Your Family:

    • Educate yourself, your family, the teachers and school, and helpful neighbours too! Studies show that when everyone is informed about Autism and how to deal with symptoms, there is more support and less stress on your child and your family, which most importantly results in the improvement of the functions of the child.
    • It is important to have emotional support because it is especially stressful when the lack of social interaction and communication between the child and adult in every situation of the day can wear on you. Having a support network is vital.
    • Best intervention is early intervention. Make sure your child gets the help he needs as early on as possible; don't give up!

    Socially .... While a child with autism may develop faster in his or her cognitive skills, their social and language skills may develop at a different or delayed pace. This means they may not be interested in conversation with others, may avoid eye contact with other people, fail to respond to their name, may seem non-empathetic, as they have difficulty interpreting what others are thinking or feeling because they do not understand social cues. A person with autism will find it much harder to understand the feelings of other people.

  2. Support Your Child's Daily Success By Making It Visual:

    • Children with autism are visual learners and communicators. Reduce verbal arguments and frustrations by making it visual! Use visual supports.
    • Visual supports are beneficial well into adulthood. Event transitions are smoother and anxiety is lessened. Use visual supports to create life-skills for scheduling, organization, and self-management. Visual supports may be a help throughout their lifetime and alleviate a great amount of stress.
    • Visual schedules help children and students prepare for the day and understand expectations. It is essential to follow the routine they are given. If there is a change in the routine, prepare them for that change well before it is going to happen. This preparation is important to decrease anxiety in anticipation of the change.

    Routine .... For a child with autism, dealing with change can become a battle as he or she will resist the change, causing his or her anxiety and frustration levels to rise. A person with autism likes predictability and he or she thrives successfully on routine. Repetition and predictability provides comfort and confidence. A visual routine is an essential tool for helping a child with autism to feel safe and to co-operate in event transitions. The key is to stick to the routine laid out.

  3. Secure Calmness and Clarity At the Right Time:

    • Careful and clear or direct communication is needed. Use a calm tone of voice, especially during a behavioral outburst. In order to de-escalate behavior, your tone and behaviour is what will be mirrored.
    • As soon as anxiety sets in the child's ability to process information is diminished and sensory issues are heightened. Know what causes anxiety for that child and be familiar of the signs of anxiety or stress: pacing, hand-wringing, flushed face, or repetition of a phrase.
    • Teach the child alternative ways of responding when they are calm and not when they are in a tantrum because they cannot hear you or understand at that moment. When they are calm discuss strategies that they can use to help calm themselves down during stressful moments.

    Surroundings... A child with autism does not like sudden changes in sounds, smells, light, or physical contact. Avoiding or truly preparing this child for a sudden loud noise or a change in intensity of light or sound will help them to cope better. Some children with Autism do not like physical contact, so cuddling and hugging or grabbing this child may cause an adverse reaction.

The bottom line is, don't focus on the autism but focus on the strengths and successes of the amazing person who happens to have autism. Being informed is the first step to understanding, acceptance, and assistance. Hoping we all are now a step further ahead than we were yesterday! Warmly,

Elaine Tan Comeau

Here is a video of Elaine sharing about Autism Awareness on Global News.

Elaine Tan Comeau is an enterprising mother of three children, a wife, and a former elementary school teacher who has just been awarded the 2014 Canadian Mompreneur of the Year.  Elaine has garnered a lot of attention lately for her multiple-award winning Easy Daysies product line, and has received the Chamber of Commerce Award for Excellence in Business, as well as an Award in Teaching Excellence.  She is the CEO and Founder of one of Dragons' Den favorite pitches, Easy Daysies, which incited a bidding war among all five Dragons.  Her products are recommended by child psychologists, occupational therapists and educators.  Easy Daysies was also chosen by Ford Company as one the 2014 Dragons' Den Driven For Success Companies that exemplified Ford's Four Pillars of Success.   Elaine has been featured in the Financial Post, Maclean's Magazine, Canadian Business Magazine, Huffington Post, to name a few, all wanting to know her story about being a mom entrepreneur. Her products have been featured on CBC, CTV, ABC, Global Television, Breakfast Television, FOX32 News, KCAL-TV , WPIX, WISH-TV, XETV. Elaine has been published in Educational Psychology (Allyn & Bacon Canada, 2000) for her insight on teaching diversity. She has written and published several e-books (2013), and she continues to be sought after for her sell out webinars and speaking engagements on educational strategies for both educators and parents.  Elaine is also sought after for speaking engagements relating to entrepreneurship. She enjoys being a guest writer and speaker, and is raved about in both Kevin O'Leary's and Jim Treliving's latest books.

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