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5 ways Autism Month can help you teach your kids “different” is good

by | Mar 29, 2019 | Parenting

April is World Autism Month and along with donating to Autism Speaks for every haircut Mondays through Fridays this month, we’re taking this opportunity to celebrate how we’re not all alike—and how that is a great thing.

Most of us have experienced this nightmare moment: You’re out for an afternoon of grocery shopping with your little one, pushing them along in the shopping cart as they innocently observe the world around them. Maybe they’re asking you questions or singing sweetly or just quietly looking around. And you’re basking in their cuteness because, let’s face it, the world has never seen a kid as adorable as yours.

You turn down an aisle, and there’s another child with their mom or dad. Maybe this other little one looks different or is acting different than what your child is used to seeing. And then—it happens. Your kid raises their chubby little finger to point directly at the other kid. And your sweet little angel, heart of your heart, flesh of your flesh practically screams, loud enough for the whole store to hear, “Why is that kid so WEIRD?”

How could my child be so heartless? you may wonder as you mumble an apology and practically sprint out of the store.

The truth is—our kids make these comments because they haven’t learned otherwise. They’re not mean—they just don’t know better. So why not start teaching them now?

This month is World Autism Month.  Throughout the month, people all over the world pledge to wear blue to raise awareness about and spread love for those around the world living with autism. You might even see famous landmarks light up blue on April 2 for World Autism Awareness Day. So it’s a perfect opportunity to start teaching and reinforcing the message with our kids that we all have our differences… and being different isn’t “weird.”

And we’ve got 5 suggestions on how you can do that.

1. Exposure, exposure, exposure!

This might be the most important step in teaching our kids about our differences. It’s so easy to limit our kids’ social lives to familiar faces—our family, our friends, the neighbors you’ve lived next to for 5 years. But if you don’t expose them to anyone outside of their little bubble, they won’t be aware that people different from them even exist in the first place.

So how do we expand our kids’ world? Consider taking them places where they’ll meet new friends—friends that might not look or talk or play just like they do. This can be as simple as going to storytime at your local library—you might even try going to a different branch of the library than normal, one outside of your neighborhood. The Chicago Public Library’s event calendar has tons of opportunities for your kids to interact with other children all over the city.

Maybe you’ve just arrived home from your grocery store nightmare and are eager to start teaching your kids right away… but aren’t so eager to take your kids out again, where they’ll just continue their “observations.” If that’s the case, start teaching them at home. You can watch videos with them that show a variety of kinds of kids that make “different” seem not so “weird” after all. And that just because kids are different, that doesn’t make them any less. For example, this video from Autism Speaks is a great resource that will introduce your kids to a child with autism. 

2. Read them a book

While you’re at the library meeting other diverse kiddos, why not check out some books about diversity? Talking about our differences can feel like an overwhelming task, so if you’re not sure what to say… let a book say it for you. Books are a great way to start a conversation about the things that make us unique, and children’s books will put these complex topics into words that your little ones can understand.

Plus there’s a lot of great books about diversity out there. We recommend Lovely, Happy in our Skin, and It’s Okay to Be Different.

You can also check out this website from PBS Kids and Sesame Street. They’ve got digital storybooks and other resources to teach your kids about autism and other children who may look different from your child or have different kinds of abilities.

3. Don’t be afraid of their questions

Some lessons are simple. Like that time you took your kids to the petting zoo to teach them about animals. Or when you taught them the alphabet by singing a simple, universally-known song over and over.

Other topics are… not so easy. You might dread your kids’ questions about why other kids are different. The truth is, many of us feel incompetent when it comes to a lot of the questions our kids ask us. How are we supposed to reduce big topics to simple answers?

You know more than you think you know. And if you don’t know what to tell them, start with this: We are all unique, special people. And we need to show everyone love. So if you don’t know what else to teach them—teach them to be kind and inclusive…to all the people they encounter.

If you need a little help getting started, Everyone Matters is a great resource for teaching your kids that every single person deserves to be treated with kindness and respect.

4. Walk for Autism Speaks

In honor of World Autism Month, April’s #KidSnipsShoutout goes to the Autism Speaks Walk. What better way to teach kids about our differences than to rally together to raise money and awareness for kids who may be different from them?

You can take this opportunity to tell your kids why you’re walking, who you’re walking for, and how walking will help other kids. The next Chicago Walk is on April 29th. Find out more and register here.

5. Get a haircut at KidSnips

This month, we’re donating $1 to Autism Speaks for every full-price haircut on a weekday. So bring the whole family in, and let your little one know that their haircut is helping another little kid get to have as much fun being a kid as they do. Learn more about how KidSnips gives back here.

Note: $1 donation with any full-price weekday haircut will be made to Autism Speaks through April 30, 2019. Not valid with any other offers.

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