Tuesday, July 19, 2011

How to explain autism to a young child

The best geared-for-kids explanation about autism I've ever read comes from the blog of Mom-NOS. She describes a world in which neurotypical brains are toasters, and autistic brains are hair dryers. In this world, the toaster-brained people have decided that the most important thing one can do is to make toast; those with hair dryer brains can try to make toast, but it will take a long time, and the toast will always look wrong. But there are some things a hair dryer can do far better than a toaster... It's a brilliant analogy - take a minute to read it in her words. I promise you it's worth it.

But if you don't want to launch into a whole long analogy-based story, here are some talking points for teaching a typically-developing child about his friend with autism:

- ____ has autism. That means his brain is wired a little differently than yours.

- There are some things that are harder for him, like talking, playing with other kids, or changing his routine. He's still smart, and he's still a good kid, he just needs a little extra help with those things.

- There are some things that are easier for him, like memorizing stories or hearing/seeing etc.

- Autism is something you're born with. You can't catch it.

- In most ways, we are all the same. We're all human, we all have feelings, we all love the people in our lives, we like to play with sand, we like eating ice cream...

- But every one of us is unique. Be proud of the ways in which you are different from everyone else in the world, and respect others' differences.

- To be a better friend to a kid with autism, be patient. Use fewer words when you speak, and give him extra time to answer you. Accept him the way he is. And try not to take it personally if he doesn't want to play the way you want him to.


  1. I LOVE this analogy. I'm always looking for new ways to explain things to my nieces and nephews. The cousin story below? Is very familiar to me. Thanks for the tips!

  2. Miller's mom here :-)
    I have been thinking a lot about how to have a conversation with him about Ryan.

    First, I am not shirking any guest blogging responsibilities ;-) I want to give myself enough time to research some age-appropriate books and really think about my approach. While I LOVE the toaster/hair dryer analogy, I think Miller's a bit young to grasp it.

    I anticipate we'll talk about it over the weekend, so stay tuned!


  3. Hi all,
    Dylan’s mom here. Well I read the blog and loved it. Loved how the kids asked questions and participated well. My husband and I chose to print the part about the toaster and the hair dryer as well as How can I be a better friend to Bud? How can I be a person Bud would like to hang out with?
    First off let me say that although Dylan is an NT child he does have a short attention span. When talking to him you’d think he was paying attention but he isn’t. So with that in mind we discussed the afternoon playing with Ryan and Miller and explained why Ryan played differently and not following along. We told him he has Autism. He asked what that was so we read to him the parts of the blog. We asked if he understood and he said yeah. So I went a little further and said let’s compare his brain with the kids in his kindergarten classes. When everyone graduated most kids reading levels were G, H and I. Dylan was at a D/E. He just skidded by. That he understood.
    With that said, I don’t think it was enough for Dylan to still understand so like Stephanie I too will research some age-appropriate books. So here too stay tuned.
    Best, Joy

  4. We have always explained Logan's autism to Madison as his brain is wired differently than ours so he does things differently. At age 9 that's how she explains it to her friends and others. It is so cute. Great analogy!

  5. That's a really cute way to explain it! I'll have to use that one!! x


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