“Mummy, why is it hard for me to talk to people?” Explaining Autism to Children.

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This is the next part in the Autism Awareness series “Mummy, why does Harry do that?” It may be a helpful way of explaining to children how their brain works differently because they have autism. Only use this if they are at the level where they can understand the brain’s involvement in our actions and if they have some understanding of metaphor. I have used it really successfully in some cases and failed miserably in others. It is helpful to pair it with a physcial exercise such as creating a playdough brain and making each section of the brain a different colour. Then you can feed pipe-cleaners into each section of the brain and attach them to different parts of a pipe-cleaner stick figure. You could also draw on butchers paper a really big brain connected to a body by lines and use toy cars to show how it works. You can say “if I can see something new, what does the car do?” and they have to drive the car from the eyes to the brain on that particular road. So here goes…

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The brain is super cool! It controls everything you do. It has different places in it that work different parts of the body. One blue blob might control your talking, one might control your walking. If you want to move your arm, your brain tells your arm how to do it! All the different places in the brain are joined together with things that look like roads. It’s sort of like two houses that are joined together by roads. If you wanted to play with your friend you would get in your car and drive to their house. In your brain, if you want to move your arm, the brain will send a message in the car and drive it to the part of the brain that controls your arm. Every time anything happens around you, a message is sent to the brain. So every time you see something, a message is sent in the car to the part of the brain that controls your eyes. Every time you hear something, a message is sent in the car to the part of the brain that controls the ears.

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A brain with Asperger’s or autism is different to other brains. It is busier. There are more roads in it. This is a great thing when you are by yourself and it is quiet and calm. More roads mean you have more chance of discovering something or working out something really awesome. But when you are in a busy place with lots of noise and bright lights and people talking, there are too many cars on the roads in your brain and you can’t concentrate on any of them! The brain on the right is like your brain, the brain on the left is like other people’s brains.

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When you talk to people your brain is using lots of roads. It is sending messages about what the person looks like, what they sound like when they talk, what their face is doing while they talk, what the words mean that they are saying. A brain with Asperger’s or autism uses a different road for each of these things. Other brains only use one road and pile all of this information about talking to someone into the one car. So they use one car and one road and you use lots of cars and lots of roads. No wonder you need a rest after talking to people! No wonder it takes you longer to think of something to say back to them when all your cars are still buzzing around your brain and haven’t got to the right house yet. When there are too many cars on the roads eventually they might crash. This is when you will have a meltdown and feel like you can’t cope anymore.

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This is the basic concept but you will have to find whatever creative way you can to explain it to your child. It is explained in the blog post for parents The Little City in my Autism Child’s Brain: 5 Quick Tips for dealing with Peak Hour and is based on the research that autism may be in part caused by a deficiency in the brain’s natural culling system of connections that are not needed. We are born with every single connection we may ever need but the brain culls some unnecessary ones during toddlerhood. When this doesn’t occur you end up with an inefficient system of chaotic proportions.

Mum or Dad please modify this Social Story to suit your child’s level of understanding.

Keep trucking on

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