December 5, 2020

When I describe my experiences as an autistic adult, I often get comments from parents whose children seem to have similar experiences.

Similar, but slightly different – so, parents sometimes ask me for help to unravel the mystery of their child’s own motivations and preferences.

I really appreciate these questions! Even if my answer is just a hypothesis, I think it’s likely to be closer to the truth than an answer from an autism professional who isn’t actually autistic.

But the real experts are the children themselves. They may not have the vocabulary to describe what they’re going through, but you can help them discover it.

Before you start, I think it’s very important to assure them that their reactions are valid. They need to know that you’ll believe them when they say something is extra hard or extra fun, even if you don’t understand why.

That being said, here are some questions you can ask to help children articulate their experiences and advocate for their needs.

Does it feel good or bad in your eyes?

Does it feel good or bad in your ears?

Does it feel good or bad in your mouth?

Does it feel good or bad on your skin?

Does it feel better than (something you personally enjoy), or not as great, or about the same?

Does it feel worse than (something you personally dislike), or not as bad, or about the same?

If it were a color, what color would it be?

If it were a sound, what sound would it be?

If it were a dance, what would it look like?

If you wanted to feel the opposite of how it makes you feel, what would you do?

If there were no rules, what would you do differently?

If you could make the rules, what would you ask other people to do differently?

Some of these questions will be harder to answer for kids who use AAC. Some may require you to think of options, so that they can answer yes or no.

But it will be worth it to spark their imaginations – to get them thinking of metaphors that neurotypical people might understand.

P.S. I write from my personal experience as an autistic. What I share is not a substitute for advice from an autistic medical professional. Also, some of my opinions have changed since I first wrote them.