You may know someone who has an autistic child—as many as one out of every 150 children has a disorder somewhere on the autism scale.
Yes, autism scale. While autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects a child’s ability to interact with others, some children with autism are completely nonverbal while others have complex vocabularies and few noticeable quirks. So take your cues from the child’s parents. Ask them what’s typical for their child. Ask how he normally communicates, what things trigger his behavior and what strategies work to soothe their child. Remember: The parents are your allies. Odds are they’ve spent years learning how to deal with their child. Let them teach you.
Keep in mind that many autistic children have sensory integration issues as well, so keep stimulation to a minimum. Use a calm, low voice and treat your patient in a dimly lit room, away from others. Always ask permission before touching the child, and communicate with him according to his parents’ instructions. (Some autistic children use picture boards or flashcards; others may use an electronic device or American Sign Language.) Follow the child’s home routine as closely as possible; most children with autism do not respond well to change. Be sure to inquire about his medication schedule, too. Maintaining his usual meds will go a long way toward maintaining his health and will help his parents feel confident in his care.
Above all, remember that a child with autism is an individual with unique needs, just like anyone else.