Welcome to two-minute messages, a topic explored over a morning cup of coffee… and a message you can read in a minute or two.
❤️ Given the month—February—the topic is love. More specifically, sharing and showing love to a child who has difficulty expressing and receiving love.
How do you connect with a child on the autism spectrum?
I am asked this question a lot—by parents, by grandparents, by aunties, uncles, cousins and friends of children with autism. How can I show love in a way that can be received without feeling overwhelming?
In order to catch a fish, think like a fish. Go out at dawn when fish feed; put your line down in shadowy crevices.
In order to connect with an autistic child, think like a cat. Honestly, do that. You cannot make a cat like you, come to you, sit in your lap or greet you. But cats can and will do each—in their own time, in their own way. Ditto for a child with autism.
In my experience, cats and kids with autism share some innate inclinations. When you’ve gained their trust and interest, connection follows. It cannot be forced: like a cat, a child with autism will come to you. This connection must be earned.
Meet them where they are.
What does the child like? Watching airplanes take off? Noticing shadows? Collecting and categorizing public signs? Ceiling fans, fire hydrants, provincial flags, the solar system, Queen Elizabeth II, the number eight, whales and the Cat in the Hat were all favourites in our home. There will be something—or many things—that intrigue each child.
Help them make collections of their fascinations. Collecting is connecting—and it’s something you can do together. And yes, it’s fun! Collections can be digital, like collections of photos or video clips, or concrete, like objects to arrange, rearrange, display and show others. Collections tell us who we are and what we like. They also calm us and soothe us in uncertain times.
Sharing is connecting.
Here is Erik’s childhood “What’s Not Allowed?” sign collection. For our family, collecting enabled heartfelt connection.
What will you collect?
* Teresa Hedley is the author of What’s Not Allowed? A Family Journey with Autism, a memoir which takes you into the headspace of a parent managing a dynamic household and what it’s like to parent a child with autism—and also be on the move across Canada. Tips, strategies and points to ponder are embedded in stories, vignettes and retrospectives.