How to Help Children Understand a Classmate With Autism

It’s possible and even likely that your child has daily contact with an autistic child at school -- either in the classroom or on the playground. Because your child may perceive significant differences between herself and a classmate with autism, it’s helpful to provide information to help your child understand this disorder 2. With understanding comes empathy, which is the key to helping your child accept and coexist with others.

Remind your child that everyone has feelings, ideas and desires -- including a child experiencing autism, states author Ellen Notbohm, writing for the Autism Speaks website. It can be difficult to see the more “normal” characteristics of an autistic child because he often has sensitivities that make it difficult for him to behave like other children behave.

Advise your child that it’s common for children with autism to gravitate to smaller groups of peers or younger children instead of playing and hanging out with peers of the same age, advises the National Autism Resources website. The noise and activity of a large group of people can overwhelm an autistic child.

Warn your child that a child with autism often has trouble processing external stimuli, such as sounds, sights, touches and smells. When this happens, the child may have trouble communicating and listening. This might look and sound like a standard temper tantrum to others, but the reality is that the autistic child is feeling sensitive and overwhelmed from something external that is bothering him.

Explain to your child that kids with autism often have a difficult time being friendly with other kids, playing nicely and following basic rules of how to get along with others, offers the Kids Health website 2. For example, a child with autism may not follow rules well when playing playground games with other children.

Help your child understand that autistic children want friends, just like everyone else. Encourage your child to be friendly and respectful to a child with autism. Smiling and treating the child with kindness will help the autistic child feel valued and important. Adopting this attitude toward an autistic child can be an important way to set an example of kindness and friendliness for other children as well.


Autistic children can often be the victims of bullying due to their difficulty interacting socially with others, warns the National Autism Association. Educate your child about appropriate peer relationships to ensure that your child treats others with respect and empathy. Give your child specific guidelines about how to advocate for a bullying victim as well -- standing up for the victim and getting adult help -- to ensure that your child can be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem.