How to support children with autism learning their peers’ names

Do you know that some children with autism struggle recognising people’s faces?

I was stunned years ago, at the start of my career, when I realised that one of my students didn’t know the names of his classmates. This boy, who had autism, enjoyed being with other children and often engaged in play and conversation, that is what made it even more confusing to be at the time.

My son Sebastian, who also has autism, struggles with that too. Of course, he remembers and knows well close relatives and close friends, but outside this circle, he finds it hard to remember people’s names and faces.

That is because some children with autism can find difficult recognising people’s faces. This deficiency can also be called facial blindness. It does not mean they can’t recognise people, but it can mean that it might take them longer to get to identify a new face.

While recognising faces and remembering people’s names might be an issue for some children with autism, there are ways to support them so they can get to know their classmates.

In today’s video, I talk about two activities you can do in the classroom to make sure your student learns his or her peers’ names, and get to know the other children in the class a bit better.

P.S. Forward this email to any colleagues that you think might benefit from this information.

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How to support children with autism learning their peers’ names

Help your child say more words

3 strategies to get your child communicating.

One of the questions parents and teachers often ask is “what can I do to help my child say more words?”.

This week, in my video blog, I answer a question that a mum of a 4-year-old boy with autism sent me asking for advice on how to help his son use more words.

Each child is unique; all children will learn and develop at their own pace. But there are several effective strategies you can implement to encourage more communication.

In this video blog, you will learn 3 strategies I always use with my students.

And now your turn, which strategies do you use to encourage your students to communicate more?

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Help your child say more words: 3 strategies to get your child communicating

Communication Passport

One of the main questions for parents of children with disabilities over the last two months has been “What would happen if I became sick? Who would look after my child/children?” This is a concern for all parents, but particularly parents of children with autism or significant language delays.

Children with autism often have difficulties with social interaction, including establishing and maintaining relationships and communicating with others. This, in turn, affects how they interact with family members and friends. Some family members might struggle to understand or to cope with an autistic child; therefore, parents may have a limited number of people with whom they can leave their child.

Parents need to identify those who can help look after their child/children in an emergency and make a plan based on this. The current Covid-19 pandemic has reminded families that they need to plan for unexpected events.
As Covid-19 seems to be giving us a little breathing space at the moment, it’s an excellent time to make a plan and create a communication passport.

What is a communication passport?
A communication passport is a document that shares important information about your child to help other people to get to know him or her. Parents and teachers usually write the passport, but if your child can contribute, make sure they have their say. The passport is an important document, particularly when your child has to go to unfamiliar places with people they may not know well.

The passport has information about the little things that are very important and unique to your child. For example, your child may only eat a particular brand of bread, or be very sensitive to loud noises, or there may be specific things that they find upsetting. The passport will contain all of this information, so if your child has to spend time with someone else, they will have this valuable information to hand.

How to write a passport?
The passport is written from the child’s point of view and must be easy to understand. You can include pictures, symbols and drawings to make it more personal, so the child might even want to show it and read it to others.

Passports are typically printed and laminated or created in a digital format for easy sharing.
Make sure you include all relevant and up to date information such as what the child likes, dislikes, what is the best way to do things with the child, how to communicate, what to do when the child is upset and also include daily routines.

Who should have a communication passport?
Anyone who needs help to communicate important information about themselves needs a communication passport. Even children with autism who are verbal can benefit from having one, because the child may have difficulties communicating if they are under stress or overwhelmed.

Having an updated passport can also help relieve stress for parents. If there is an emergency, they will know that all the information is in one place and whoever is looking after their child will have the information they need.

How can I make one for my child?
I have created a small communication passport template for you to populate – you can download it from the link below.

This is a basic passport that you can print and fold like a flyer so you can always have it in your child’s bag.
When you download the document, you will see a sample passport to give you an idea of the type of information you can include, and you will also see the blank template for you to use.

It only takes a short while to fill in this communication passport, and it will give you the peace of mind that in the case of an emergency, whoever is looking after your child has all information they need.

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How We Managed Lockdown With A Child With Autism

It’s been ten long weeks since Ireland went into lockdown. Although the situation is far from over, seeing the number of cases of COVID-19 dropping and restrictions easing as our country gradually begins to reopen – gives us all a little hope.

Personally, our own family and friends have been keeping in touch, concerned about how are we managing with Sebastian, and they are quite surprised to hear that we are doing quite well all things considered.

At the beginning of the restrictions, Sebastian did struggle with the sudden and extreme changes to our routine. It was difficult for everyone, but particularly for people with autism, who tend to rely on their routines and structure so much.

After the first two weeks, we gradually developed a new routine. Here are the 3 things we did to make lockdown more manageable for him (and for us!).

We created a new routine? and we stuck to it!

Children with autism thrive on routine. For Sebastian – routine works like magic. If he is not feeling well, starts whining and complaining, be sure that it’s because something is not going according to our usual plan.

It’s easy to become demotivated, with the usual routine gone, there is no need to hurry in the morning to get up and ready by 8.30 am. Although having a routine and sticking to it is the best thing you can do for a child with autism.

The first thing that we did was to create new visual schedules. Sebastian can read, so we have calendars and write daily and weekly plans. If a child is not reading yet, then a visual schedule with pictures or symbols is the best option. Board Maker is an online resource to create visual supports, and you can try it out for a month for free.

We created new special days

Before the lockdown, each day of the week was different. Some days the kids had PE in school, other days we had piano lessons, occasionally as a treat, we would go to the local cafe – each day we did something different.

Now, however, days are rolling into each other and feel the same. Every night Sebastian asks me; Mum, what are we doing tomorrow? I am tempted to answer; the same as today my love, but I quickly come up with something, even if it is, we’ll do some baking, just to make the next day seem special and a little different.

After a while, we decided to have a weekly schedule, just as we did before. This way, we have something to look forward to, without having to come up with new things to do every day.

We do simple things like taking a long walk on Mondays, virtual piano class on Tuesdays, pizza on Wednesday, family movie on Thursday etc. We created a new weekly routine that gives structure to our days.

We are flexible

I’m going to contradict myself here! I’ve just spoken at length about how important structure is and how crucial it is to stick to your routine, but it’s ok to change plans too!

Some days, for whatever reason, my children can have a hard time. Sometimes it’s small things, like not being able to go to the shops. At other times they may have bigger worries, such as not being able to see their grandparents, or being fearful about this mysterious virus. This situation is hard for all of us. We need to look after our physical and mental health, and the same applies to children. I am more flexible with the kids when I see that they are having a bad day. On those days, we talk about how we are feeling and look for something that will make us feel better. We might make a cup of hot chocolate, cuddle up under a big blanket, and watch a funny movie.

The nice weather and the longer days will hopefully make lockdown more manageable with children from now on. What have you done to support children with autism during this time? I’d love to hear from you!

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