The Power of (Using) Explanations!

“Our children and adults on the Autism Spectrum often experience the world around them as chaotic, disorganized, and unpredictable. Social relationships can be especially challenging, and they do not always understand subtle social cues. For many of our children and adults on the spectrum… it can be a mystery, why their caregivers (and the people in their lives) want them to do certain things and behave in certain ways, that seem haphazard to them.

“For example: Suddenly everyone ‘freaks out’ if our child decides to get undressed in the middle of the grocery store,  when it was OK that they did this at home earlier – for our children, having clothes on might feel really uncomfortable and over-stimulating for their tactile/sensory system, regardless if they are at home, or in the grocery store. They just want to get comfortable…

“What we (neuro-typical people), might call ‘appropriate’ behavior, might not make sense, and seems random to our children on the spectrum. Having clothes on does not feel good, and they just want them off!

“Now, of course, we want our children to stay dressed when in public, and most importantly we want our children to recognize and participate in behaviors that are safe for them. How do we help them with this?

  • Use more explanations with things that affect and involve your child… For example, explaining to your child where the two of you are driving to, and why – ‘This afternoon we are going to the dentist, so they can look at your teeth and make sure you are healthy and well…’
  • Make sure your explanations include how this will benefit your child
  • Break down your explanations so they make sense for your child

For example, ‘I’m asking you not to climb on the shelves, because they can break and fall on top of you, and you can get hurt. I love you and want to keep you safe!’

  • Make the explanations visual, fun, and appealing

For example: You can create a fun visual schedule for your child, with illustrations of all the activities they will do throughout a day.

“Because many of our children have a huge challenge with communicating and expressing themselves, it is common for parents and caregivers to assume that their children don’t understand what is being said to them. However, this is an inaccurate representation of our children, who do understand a lot more than we give them credit for. In our over 40 years of experience of working directly with children and adults on the autism spectrum, we have found that our children and adults consistently understand way, way more than they are able to verbalize and communicate themselves.

“When we explain to our children and adults on the spectrum what we are doing that affects and involves them, we become more predictable and easier to engage with. We also show them that we can be trusted, and that we have their best interest in mind. It makes a huge difference when our children can hear from us, why we are doing what we are doing.

For example: ‘The reason why we are not eating cake, is because I know this gives you a stomach ache and keeps you up all night. Sugar affects you in many ways… I will give you a healthier food instead, because I love you!’

“What is something that you have been wanting to help your child with, which you could use more explanations on why you want that for them?

“This not only helps them, it helps *us*. Because our children become much more cooperative.”

Written by Camila Titone, Senior Son-Rise Program Teacher

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