By Lisa Jo Rudy, author of Get out, Explore, and Have Fun! How Families of Children with Autism or Asperger Syndrome Can Get the Most out of Community Activities

So you’re ready to get out and have fun with your child with autism – but you’re having understandable qualms.

Perhaps you’re worried that your child with autism will be overwhelmed by sights, sounds or smells…or that his odd behaviors will be misunderstood by other kids (or, worse, by other parents). Maybe you’re concerned that your child’s developmental differences will make it impossible for her to keep up with the other kids.

It could even be that, like many other people, you’re embarrassed by the idea that your child with autism will be the “special case,” in need of extra support and encouragement.

Whatever your reasons, you may be absolutely correct. You and/or your child may not be ready for full-scale community inclusion.

If, after thinking it through carefully, you’re more comfortable with “special needs” options for your child with autism, you’ll certainly be in good company. And for many children and families, the special needs programs are a terrific jumping off place for full inclusion down the line.

So how do you know if special needs sports, arts, or other activities are best for your child? Ask yourself:

• Is my child asking to be involved with the community, or is this my idea as a parent?

• Does my child have most of the physical skills needed to take part in the activity (if sports, can he kick, throw, and run as appropriate for his age and for the sport? If art, can he draw, cut, glue, etc.?)

• Does my child have the ability to understand and attend to spoken direction with just a little extra support?

• Does my child have the maturity to engage with any activity for an hour on end?

• Does my child have the emotional maturity to manage interaction with a group without outbursts, meltdowns or other troubling behaviors?

• Will my child require special caregiving skills such as toileting/diapering when he is beyond the usual age for such needs?

• Can I or an aide be present to support my child if he needs it?

• Can I, as a parent, handle the potential fallout if my child is asked to leave a community program?

If, after honestly answering these questions, you feel your child ready for full inclusion, wonderful! If you’re not quite sure, it’s important to spend some time investigating the programs you’re considering for your child. If you’re realizing now that a special needs program might be best for your child, start researching the options.

Before making a final decision about which type of activity is likely to be best for your child and for you, I highly recommend actually visiting and observing the program(s) you have in mind. Often, it’s the instructor and not the program that makes the difference – and wonderful (or terrible) instructors may be found anywhere, at any time!

Lastly, if you’re not sure your child is ready for a typical program – but you think she may be – I recommend giving it a trial run. Explain your situation, and ask if your child can visit and try out the program for a session or two. If the answer is “no,” move on. If the answer is “yes,” give it a try. You may be pleasantly surprised at how well your child with autism can adapt to a new situation if the activity, the instructor and the group just happen to fit your child’s needs.

Lisa Jo Rudy is a professional writer, researcher and consultant, and the mother of a 13-year-old boy with an autism spectrum disorder. She has more than twenty years of experience in developing hands-on exhibits, interactive games, books and activities for kids with every learning style. Since 2006, Lisa has been the Guide to Autism.

Pick up Lisa’s book, Get out, Explore, and Have Fun!, for more guidance about how to get your child with Autism or Asperger Syndrom involved in community activities.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2010.

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