April is National Autism Awareness Month! Get some information about what may trigger challenging behaviors and 26 sample adaptations for your Club from our partner Kids Included Together and Autism Speaks. Read on for more information on BGCA’s all-new Serving Youth With Autism Toolkit!
One in 68 children have Autism Spectrum Disorder, so chances are there is at least one youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) attending your Club. Autism Spectrum Disorder is one single diagnosis that affects social communication, social interaction, and behavior including understanding social-emotional situations, using nonverbal cues for social interaction, developing relationships, flexibility, and sensory processing. These skills are on a spectrum. Some youth with ASD may be non-verbal, but be able to read social cues. Other youth may be able to recite rules, but are unable to have a back and forth conversation with a peer. Positive youth development involves seeking to understand and know each youth personally. All youth have individual strengths and needs, and youth with ASD are no different. In fact, many of the unique strengths that are sometimes associated with ASD can be highly valuable in certain careers, as this recent NPR article explains.
Youth with autism may exhibit behaviors that can be challenging to navigate. An important concept in understanding challenging behaviors exhibited by youth with autism is to know that these behaviors are a result of the child not being able to adapt to something in their environment. The stimuli in their environment are often called triggers.
By taking the time to learn and observe each youth’s unique triggers, you can learn how to prevent them and in turn greatly reduce the number of meltdowns the youth may experience at the Club. Youth with autism may exhibit challenging behaviors that can be triggered by a variety of things that may include but are not limited to having their regular routine interrupted, experiencing a new situation, and sensory overload. The video below gives an example of what sensory overload can feel like. For four others, check out this link.
The first step in understanding the youth’s triggers is to have a conversation with the family/caretakers about their child’s known triggers. Each youth with autism is unique and will experience triggers differently. Secondly, you can observe patterns in behavior. If you notice a specific stimulus causes a behavioral interaction from the child (for example loud speaker announcements interrupting sessions) you can begin to make steps to find an alternative for announcements or prepare the youth for their occurrence. The most common triggers are routine interruptions and sensory overload. Check out the Case by Case checklist on BGCA.net to gather about sensitivities and strengths for a youth that needs support. Below you will find a table adapted from Life Journey Through Autism: An Educator’s Guide on how to make adaptations for specific sensitivities.
|Need for sameness and difficulty with transitions||
|Easily distracted by sights and sounds||
|Sensitivity to touch||
|Sensitivity to smells||
|Sensitivity to sounds||
|Sensitivity to light, particularly fluorescent lights||
Once you learn the youth’s unique sensitivities and strengths, you can organize and adapt your Club environment to best suit their needs and highlight their gifts. Being intentional about learning the needs of each youth, providing a consistent environment, and creating opportunities for youth to share their unique strengths is an important part of ensuring a high-quality Club Experience for ALL.