“It often seems like children with autism don’t want to connect and engage with you,” says Chris Robinson, an occupational therapist who worked with the kids in a York University study focusing on DIR/Floortime therapy. “They actually do want to connect. It’s just that interaction is often overwhelming for them because of their difficulty processing sensory information.” These general principles from Robinson and her colleagues, speech-language pathologists Amanda Binns and Fay McGill, and social worker Eunice Lee, may help parents build more two-way interaction with kids who have autism.
Tailor your approach
When a child with autism doesn’t appear to want to interact, most people’s instinct is to try harder — and that will often cause the child to withdraw even more, Robinson says. “Think about how loud you are, how many words you say. Try moving into the child’s visual field more gradually. Watch for subtle signs that they are ready for your interaction.”
Build on what they’re doing
If your child wants to line up his cars, for example, show interest in what he is doing and experiment with gentle ways to join in. You could add a car noise if he’s “driving” his cars into line, or make your own line of cars, but zigzag them instead of placing them in straight lines. If you are able to get a response, you can build on the play by trying more fun things with your cars, and use animated expressions and noises.
Even when interaction is going well, kids with autism might not keep it up as long as other kids. “sometimes I will turn away when he needs a break,” Robinson says. Give him the break, but watch for subtle cues that say he’s ready to interact again.
A version of this article appeared in our September 2012 issue with the headline “Tips to take home,” p. 116.