HEALTHATHON: Question 5: Helping With Autism

What can a family do to help an autistic child?


Dr. Kari Miller:

Social development is key:

Opening up a child’s ability to relate to others and initiate and sustain relationships is of paramount importance.   Think about it—your child will learn everything he/she will ever know because of interacting in some way with another person.  Parents, teachers, friends, even enemies, will be near at hand when learning is occurring, and most often will play a dominant role in the learning.


Helping your child to seek out and maintain solid productive relationships will allow your child to learn valuable tools from others, particularly from successful other people.  Focusing on relationships will pay huge dividends for your child in all areas of life.


Play experiences are great excuses to relate to each other.  However, many times the activity itself becomes the focus and not the interaction between the parent and child.  It is better for your child if you limit play for a specific purpose, such as putting together a puzzle or building with blocks.  Play, instead, with “low tech” items you find around the house such as pillows, empty boxes, and buttons. Take the interesting visual objects out of the situation so YOU are the most interesting thing in your child’s life!


Relationship-oriented activities give parent and child a chance to get to know one another, so put more emphasis on things you do together for fun such as hiking, swimming, cooking, singing, building a fort, or making a doll dress.  Develop memories together.


When you play with your child, relate and reveal your feelings!  Use your words to express your personality instead of giving instructions or strictly sharing information.  Share your reactions to colors and tastes and odors.  Use gestures and facial expressions to convey your meaning as much as possible.  Make sure your gestures and words match each other.  Make getting to know each other the most important goal rather than talking about factual information.  Sure, you can discuss facts, but your reaction to your child’s interests is more important than the facts.

Amy Hummel:

First they can accept it, then they can seek assistance. Arizona has some wonderful local service providers. Look them up at the online Autism Speaks Resource Guide:

Abby Twyman:

The best thing families can do is get involved as soon as possible in an intensive behavior intervention program which utilizes interventions based on the science of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). Research has shown that an intensive intervention program which includes 25-40 hours of intervention per week can lead to extremely positive outcomes. Another key component for families is to get training on how to implement these interventions themselves. When parents and other family members understand and can implement the interventions, this significantly increases the total number of hours of intervention a child receives per week. The key to effective and efficient intervention is consistency. When everyone in a child’s life understands the best way to interact with them, play with them and teach them, the child is more likely to learn and progress quickly.

Because individuals with autism have deficits in social interaction skills it is imperative they are given the opportunity to interact with and learn from typically developing peers. This can happen in play groups, the park, and in school. Segregation and seclusion is the least desirable placement because there is little opportunity to learn how to interact appropriately in the community. For some kids with disruptive behaviors this may not be possible initially, but it should always be the goal and is definitely something which is possible for all kids. Families should consult with a behavior analyst to help them understand how to make this happen.



Question 1: 3 Myths of Autism

Question 2: Vaccines and Autism

Question 3: Signs of Autism

Question 4: Average Kid With Autism

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