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If you are a parent or family member with an autistic child, it is very important that your family and friends understand the disorder and how to react to your child’s behavior. For some families, this might be the first time that they have knowingly met someone with this diagnosis. In order to ensure the best results for your child, educating your family and friends about autism spectrum disorder (ASD) will greatly improve your child’s development, as they would have the proper training not only at school or in therapy but at home as well. Here are some tips for talking about autism.

What is ASD?

Autism spectrum disorder (autism or Asperger’s) is a developmental disorder. It is characterized by problems with communication and social interaction and restricted or repetitive behaviors, interests, or activities. This disorder is usually found during your child’s early development, and it is persistent throughout their whole life; your child simply cannot “grow out of it.”

What are the symptoms?

It is important to note that autism is a spectrum, and not all autistic children will have of the same symptoms. Symptoms may show up differently in every child, and remember that no one is the same. When describing symptoms to someone, make sure to explain what these symptoms look like from your child’s perspective. For example:


  • Lack of back-and-forth conversation. Typically, when asking someone their favorite color, they respond with an answer and will proceed to ask you a question. An autistic child might not want to share their interests with others (verbally or nonverbally). Children on the spectrum may struggle with interacting with these kinds of conversations.
  • Lack of emotion. Children on the spectrum also may not share their emotions appropriately, oftentimes, you’ll notice that their emotions or facial expressions do not seem to match the situation or that they are more intense than what you would expect for a given situation.
  • Poor eye contact. This varies by each child, but generally, these kids avoid eye contact and have difficulty keeping eye contact.
  • Lack of gestures. Examples of this may be poor pointing, using someone else’s hand to reach something, unusual body language when conversing, etc.
  • Lack of interest in peers. They might not even notice their peers around them; if they do, they could be actively avoiding them because they may not enjoy social attention or their peers may not share the same interests.


  • Restricted interests or repetitive play. Some kids may be interested in cars, but rather than drive their little cars around on a mat or using a car track, like a race car track, they line up their cars and want them in a very specific way. They may become hyper-focused on the part of an object or use an object in only one way. A common one is wheels, for example, spinning the wheel on a toy instead of playing with the toy as a whole.
  • Inflexible routines. Oftentimes kids get used to doing things in a certain way at a certain time, and that routine becomes very strict. They also may have difficulty with transitions; if they enjoy one activity, they may not want to transition to another. Some kids require their routines to stay the same, from getting ready to school to eating the same foods and playing the same games. Any disruption or change in a regular routine may cause them to become upset.
  • Scripting. If your child is watching the same cartoons, the same shows, the same movies, perhaps even the same clips of those shows or cartoons or movies, you may hear your child repeat the same things repeatedly.
  • Sensory input. Your child might not like specific tastes, smells, and textures and can throw a tantrum when exposed. The opposite may occur, and they can lack sensory awareness. They may not have a normal pain perception – what you find painful, they may not.

What does ABA achieve?

Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, is based on scientific knowledge. The effectiveness has been demonstrated across multiple studies and is the number one evidence-based treatment for autism. ABA increases language and communication skills. We

work on getting the first sounds that kids are making all the way up to more complex sentences and social skills. We also work on finding different modes of communication, so autistic children have a mode to express their wants and needs. ABA tries to decrease challenging behaviors that are occurring and teaches new skills to be used in place of those behaviors.

To understand your child’s behavior, you always want to find out why they’re engaging in a specific behavior. Instead of saying, “it’s because they have autism,” find out why they are acting this way. What happened before and after this behavior is how we can treat and prevent it in the future!

In ABA Therapy, we use positive reinforcement whenever the behavior we want to see occurs. Positive reinforcement in the interventions helps your child understand that this is the behavior we want to see and want you to do it again. It is important that we teach what they should be doing instead of what they shouldn’t be doing.

How to encourage friends and family to interact with your child

  • Take the lead. Show them how you want them to interact with your child. Give them positive alternatives. Help them know what they’re allowed to do when facing challenging behavior from your child.
  • Encourage them to play and interact with your child. Describe what they like to play with and how they can become involved with your child.
  • Teach them to narrate their actions. Every time you’re narrating what’s going on, you’re teaching them language. You’re continuing to give your child examples of the appropriate use of language. This is important to do if your child has limited vocal abilities.
  • Discuss what your target objectives are for your child. Share the short-term goals you and your ABA team have come up with. Specify what it is about ABA that is important to you, why you’re using it, and what you’re trying to get out of it. Highlight your child’s strengths and progress with them. Celebrate the goals your child has achieved! Open up about the things that are challenging and difficult. If your family and friends understand your struggles, they can help you overcome them by helping your child.

Your child will greatly appreciate and benefit from an entire home support system. We hope that you will see improvements and positive outcomes by inviting your friends and family into this journey. Every child on the spectrum is unique and should be treated as such. Please tailor our advice to your child’s needs and preferences for the ultimate results.

Note: This blog post is based on a Bierman Caregiver Webinar.

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  • Chrissy Barosky, Ph.D., BCBA-D, LABA (MA, TX, UT), LBA (RI)

    Chrissy Barosky, Ph.D., BCBA-D, LABA (MA, TX, UT), LBA (RI), joined Bierman ABA in 2013 as a Behavior Analyst and is now the Chief Clinical Officer. Chrissy has been working in the field of ABA as a practicing Behavior Analyst since 2008, and before that in the field of developmental disabilities since 2005. Prior to working in the center based setting at Bierman ABA Chrissy worked in home based ABA settings, consultation in schools and as a special educator. In addition to overseeing all clinical operations at Bierman ABA, Chrissy is also Adjunct Faculty at Simmons University and Endicott College where she teaches masters level courses on verbal behavior, behavior analytic methodologies and organizational behavior management (OBM). Chrissy obtained her bachelor’s degree from Northeastern University in Human Services, her masters degree from Columbia University in Applied Behavior Analysis and Education, and completed her Doctorate in Behavior Analysis at Simmons University. Chrissy’s research interests are in Verbal Behavior, specifically in early language acquisition and how it ties into joint attention, and staff training and its impact on client outcomes. Chrissy has presented at a variety of local and national conferences including the Association for Behavior Analysis International.

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