Autism. What do I tell my child?

Here's a question I got on the email today:

There is a little boy in my four year old son's class who I think could have ASD – although I haven’t spent enough time with him to feel confident in that opinion. His behavior is difficult at times and J comes home saying M is mean to him.

I want to help J understand that this boy may not be doing things ‘on purpose’ and help J have a kind heart towards him. I thought you might have ideas for how you’d want another mom to explain Bright Eyes’ behavior to her child.  Do you have any ideas?  

 

And here's the answer I wrote back:

If you think he can understand the concept of autism in someone's brain, then this might be good:

Brains look kind of like street maps. On most people, there are lots of little streets, all joining up together, so the traffic can go around and around and you get to where you want to go. On some people’s brains, it looks like a map with only a few streets – and you know what happens when there are lots of cars on a few streets – you can get traffic jams. With some people, they get traffic jams in their brains a lot quicker than other people and then they have trouble coping and they get angry and sometimes hit and do things that most people wouldn’t do, because they don’t really know what else to do. In your and my brain, we don’t often get traffic jams – sometimes when we are tired, or sick and things are hard – but in general it goes smoothly. So we can be patient with people who do have traffic jams in their brains because we know that things are just very hard for them to cope with.

If that's too complicated, maybe this: 

M has trouble knowing what to do when he plays with people – he’s still learning. People learn things at different times. Sometimes he hits etc because he’s not sure what else to do. Sometimes he feels scared because he’s still learning and when you don’t know it can be scary. Do you know how sometimes you feel really impatient and annoyed and so you get angry – well some people can get impatient quicker than others and annoyed. They don’t want to do it that way – they want to play nicely, but things get hard if you get impatient.

We all have 'buttons' in our heads. We get angry or impatient when something pushes our buttons. Some people have quicker buttons than other people. M obviously has quick buttons. Maybe you can help him find a way to calm down by being patient and kind, and then seeing if he wants to play again. If he is mean, you could say, “I’m sad that you’re angry because I want to be your friend. Maybe when you feel better we could play together and build a sand castle.”

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