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9 Tips on How to Introduce Yourself to a Child with Autism

March 4, 2024

It can be difficult to know how to introduce yourself to a child with autism spectrum disorder. Autistic children are not always inclined to interact with someone with whom they are not familiar. Many lack the same social skills that neurotypical children possess.

But, given time, many children with autism may become more receptive to your efforts to get to know them. Let’s look at some ways to introduce yourself to a child on the autism spectrum.

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1. Pick the right moment

There’s almost nothing more important than finding the right moment when introducing yourself to a child with autism. Children with autism spectrum disorder will often keep new people at arm’s length. They can feel overwhelmed when meeting someone, so it’s a good idea not to introduce too many new people at once.

The best moments to introduce yourself to a child with autism would be when both of you are in calm moods. We don’t try to introduce someone new to our son when he is emotionally dysregulated. He may not be able to speak, but he needs to be happy, or he won’t take the time to meet the new person.

2. Choose the right environment

Autistic children may have sensory issues, so picking the correct environment is paramount for a good introduction. If a child can’t handle loud sounds, like my son, pick a quiet place with few distractions.

If the autistic child can’t handle bright lights, choose a slightly darker setting. Paying attention to the environment can improve social situations and make the introduction go smoother.

3. Make sure someone familiar is present

Familiarity is key for a good introduction to children with autism. You will be unfamiliar, so the child will need someone they trust there to help guide the introduction.

A parent would be the best option, but other family members or a therapist who works with the child can also be viable options. A familiar person can help the child focus on the interaction and feel comfortable.

A young girl and her mother talking to a child's therapist

4. Don’t rely on body language

Autistic children may struggle with social cues. Some have trouble making eye contact, while others may not pick up on your body language. This is where communication skills for both you and them must be displayed.

Conversation skills are key as the autistic child will better understand your words rather than your body movement.

Avoid shrugging when you aren’t sure how to continue the conversation. While talking with them, the child may become more interested in who you are, but they may also have trouble listening to you if you use nonverbal communication.

5. Use clear and straightforward language

While this can vary from person to person, it’s a good idea to keep your initial sentences short. Autistic children may struggle to pay attention to someone they don’t know. Clear and straightforward speech can help you communicate with them in a way they can respond.

While talking to them, you will want to speak clearly and not use metaphors at first. Some children with autism are very literal and won’t understand the metaphor. Sometimes, being literal with your words is the best path forward.

6. Don’t assume the child understands your intentions

Autistic children can struggle to understand any underlying intentions, so make sure you clearly explain the purpose when talking to them. This is one of the many social challenges children with autism spectrum disorder face.

Because of that, when meeting a child on the spectrum, it’s best to state your intentions explicitly. Interacting with children on the spectrum needs clear communication without assumptions.




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7. Limit your questions

Meeting a new person can and should be a wonderful experience, but asking too many questions can overwhelm the child. You should limit your questions when meeting children on the spectrum to avoid them feeling overwhelmed.

There will be time to get to know the person better the next time you meet. Initially, however, parents, friends, and family can offer support to help practice communication and guide the conversation.

8. Engage in their favorite activities

An autistic child may find comfort in an activity that brings them joy, so it may be a good idea to partake in this activity during your introduction. If the child lets you play with them, take part, and you may have a better conversation with them listening better. Some children don’t like playing with others, so you’ll have to find a different way to engage in an activity with them.

My older son with autism loves both sports and music but struggles when meeting new people. These are topics that will help improve efforts to communicate with him. 

He may start talking to you if you throw a football with him or play an instrument. He may even start talking to you if you start the conversation discussing music or sports. It’s different for each child, but finding the correct activity can open up the lines of communication.

9. Be patient and don’t force it

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of being patient. You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.

If you overwhelm a child on the autism spectrum, they may not want to interact with you again in the future. That can lead to hurt feelings for parents, family, and friends.

When meeting a child with autism, do not force them to respond to your conversation until they are ready. Not being patient can lead to struggles as they grow into young adults and lead to behavior issues when you are around them.

Child playing with car toys alone

Importance of knowing how to introduce yourself to a child with autism

Learning how to communicate with a child with autism is one of the most important things adults and kids can do when meeting a person on the spectrum. Make sure the child is calm and in the correct environment to avoid sensory overload.

When talking to autistic children, be sure to speak clearly and use words that are easy to understand without relying on body language or nonverbal cues. These will help develop a rapport that can grow into a lasting relationship, whether it be with friends or family.

Be sure to present yourself in an empathetic and understanding light when meeting an autistic child for the first time. Remember to be patient; they may not be able to communicate on your schedule, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to talk. Take these tips, and it will lead to a fun and positive experience in your introduction.

FAQs

Q: How do you approach a child with autism for the first time?

A: Researchers suggest ensuring a child with autism is in a safe environment with a trusted adult and a calm mood before you try to approach them for the first time.

Q: How do you greet a child with autism?

A: Advocates suggest using a simple greeting like “hi” or “hello” when first speaking to a child with autism. Keeping a constant form of greeting reduces the chances the child gets confused and overwhelmed due to the many greeting options.

Q: How do you introduce change to an autistic child?

A: Research shows parents should explain the good things about the change and let them know early enough to understand what is going on and overcome anxiety. Parents can use visual aids, social stories, and clear, concise language to explain the upcoming change

Q: How do I introduce myself to a nonverbal child with autism?

A: When meeting a nonverbal autistic child, researchers suggest using a simple greeting. The child may not interact, or they may find a nonverbal form of communication to respond.

References:

Álvaro Bejarano-Martín, Ricardo Canal-Bedia, María Magán-Maganto, Clara Fernández-Álvarez, Sigrídur Lóa-Jónsdóttir, Evald Saemundsen, Astrid Vicente, Catia Café, Célia Rasga, Patricia García-Primo, Manuel Posada, Efficacy of focused social and communication intervention practices for young children with autism spectrum disorder: A meta-analysis, Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Volume 51, 2020, Pages 430-445, ISSN 0885-2006, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecresq.2020.01.004.

Bottema-Beutel, K. and Kim, S.Y. (2021), A Systematic Literature Review of Autism Research on Caregiver Talk. Autism Research, 14: 432-449, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/aur.2461

Weny Anita Febriantini, Rahima Fitriati, Lulud Oktaviani, 2021, https://ejurnal.teknokrat.ac.id/index.php/JoRLE/article/view/923

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