This April marks National Autism Awareness Month. First established in the 1970s, this campaign was created to keep the public informed about autism and how to support those with the condition.
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people and how they make sense of the world around them. It is a spectrum condition which means while all people with autism share certain difficulties, their condition will affect them in different ways. Whilst some sufferers are able to live relatively independent lives, others may have accompanying learning disabilities and need a lifetime of specialist support. There are more than half a million people in the UK with autism and the condition is thought to affect one in 110 children.
People with autism have said that to them, the world is a collection of people, places and events which they struggle to make sense of, leading them to feel highly anxious. The three main areas of difficulty which all people with autism share are social communication, social interaction, and social imagination.
People with autism have difficulties with both verbal and non-verbal language. Many have a very literal understanding of language, and think people always mean exactly what they say. Some people with autism may not speak, or have fairly limited speech. They will usually understand what other people say but prefer to use alternative means of communication, such as sign language or visual symbols. Others will have good language skills, but they may still find it hard to understand the give-and-take nature of conversations, perhaps repeating what the other person says or talking about their own interests at length.
People with autism often have difficulty recognising or understanding other people’s emotions and feelings, and expressing their own, which can make it more difficult for them to fit in socially. Difficulties with social interaction can mean that people with autism find it hard to form friendships – they may want to interact with others but are unsure how to.
Social imagination allows us to understand other people’s behaviour, make sense of abstract ideas, and to imagine situations outside our daily lives. Autistic people find it hard to understand and interpret other people’s thoughts and actions or engage in imaginative play and activities. However, difficulties with social imagination should not be confused with a lack of imagination; many people with autism are very creative.
With several of Mango Marketing’s clients operating in the Special Educational Needs (SEN) sector, I thought it would be worth compiling a list of toys, books, play equipment and games that teachers and parents may find popular with young children with autism.
Autistic children tend to prefer toys that involve visual-spatial skills. These could include:
• Bubble blowers
• Colour torch
• Lego and other construction toys
• Train toys
• Drawing, colouring and painting
• Picture or word lotto
Rather than just a book with plain text, try looking at some of the following:
• Books with flaps
• Books that encourage readers to touch and feel different textures and fabrics in them
• Puzzle books
It is useful to encourage physical activities that are enjoyable without the need for imagination and understanding or use of language. Physical exercise is reported to diminish bad behaviour and such activities are also helpful for improving problems of motor co-ordination. Here are some suggestions:
• Climbing frame
• Toys which children can ride: bicycles, toy tractors, etc
• Sand pit
• Paddling pool
It is worth trying to engage autistic children in simple games. Some of the more able autism sufferers learn to play chess very well because of their excellent visual-spatial memories. Board games may also prove successful as they teach the concept of winning and losing. Some games children with autism could play with others include:
• Connect 4
• Guess who?
• Snakes and ladders
Charities such as the National Autistic Society aim to give people living with autism the support, education and training they need to help them to live as independently as possible and feel part of the community and wider society. So why not help raise money for this charity or others like it today?!