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.