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Raiola

Spring is here and children are out and about in Northeast Pennsylvania’s wonderful, diverse communities. Parents take their children to the parks and on bicycle rides and during the school day, recess can finally be outdoors.

However, for children on the autism spectrum and with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), beginning a new season of change, can come with challenges.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that nearly 1 in 68 children have been diagnosed with autism, a complex neurodevelopmental disorder. Children with autism often display some difficulties in social interaction, verbal communication, rigidity and repetitive behaviors.

Children with autism as well as those with ADHD often have difficulty with change in routines, schedules and in going from one activity to another, as well as change from one location to another. It is helpful to prepare for those kinds of changes by having simple pictures that show what will happen next and possibly, using photos with a calendar.

Children on the spectrum are often inflexible when it comes to changes in routines and parents continue to create strategies to help make transitions easier. Children with less ability to transition often feel overloaded. For some children on the autism spectrum, as well as those with ADHD, a change in sensory stimulation in the environment can be a huge challenge.

In asking parents of children on the spectrum what they want other people to know, responses include what they don’t want to hear, such as “s/he doesn’t LOOK autistic,” and they would like others to reserve judgment. Additionally, if a child has a melt-down in public, people could ask, “do you need help?” The offer of assistance is most welcome — without judgement.

Children may not know why another child is different. It is important for the community and parents to make neurotypical children aware and knowledgeable. More than ever, bullying must immediately be stopped.

Children with deficits like those on the autism spectrum or with ADHD may be targets. Tolerance needs to be modeled by adults and continually taught and reinforced at home, at schools and in communities.

It is important for families to realize that there are others in the community who really could use their support.

Teaching children compassion, not only on an emotional level, but reinforcing actual participation in helping and doing good deeds, builds empathy and community connections. Interacting with and learning about others, can help build relationships and facilitate these interpersonal connections. Engaging in activities at school, in the playground, at religious institutions, and teaching children to know that there is something to learn from everyone, can be a common goal.

Education, awareness, hands-on involvement, being taught the strengths and limitations of others and engaging families in programs that facilitate tolerance, can build a stronger community where people are inclined to look out for one another. This will break down barriers and teach children a sense of responsibility for their neighbors.

So, in this month of Autism Awareness, let us take an active role in teaching our children that different is not less and that there are lots of other types of people in our very own community. Open communication can break down fears and understanding that our community is a fabric, woven of many types of children, all to embrace, without judgment, as our neighbors.

Beth Raiola is owner-director of ABA Therapy Services LLC in Pocono Summit, a specialized practice serving children with behavioral and cognitive challenges. She is a licensed and board-certified behavior specialist as well as a a board-certified behavior analyst. She is a consultative supervisor and trainer in evidence-based practices and applied behavior analysis. Raiola is working on her doctorate at the American College of Education. Email her at researchdir1@aol.com