As part of a recent homework assignment, seven-year-old Molly-Raine Adams of Glengormley, Ireland was asked to make a list of qualities she’d most like in a friend. Before she did, the little girl, who was recently diagnosed with autism, thought long and hard about what she really really wanted more than anything in the world in a BFF. In the end, Molly-Raine wrote a touching wish list, and it sadly highlights the difficulty many children with autism spectrum disorder have when making friends. It’s no surprise, then, that her heartbreaking list has since gone viral, touching hearts everywhere.
Before posting the photo online earlier this week, Molly-Raine’s mother, Karen Adams, says she asked her daughter’s permission. “[S]he said she thought it was a good idea because someone might read it and tell their child about autism.” Karen explained to ABC News that in addition to autism, her daughter has ADHD and some other special needs. She can get anxious around other kids, which can often lead to vocal tics and other behaviors that children might not understand.
“I’m very proud of her,” Adams said in an interview with ABC News. “It takes a lot for Mol to stay on task and write anything and she did this homework independently which is a huge achievement for her. She thought about it for a good while first and I think she just wants what all children want, to be understood and accepted for who she is.”
In full, Molly-Raine’s list reads:
Someone who …
- Understands me
- Knows I have autism
- Smiles all the time
- Keeps me company when I am sad
As autism rates have continued to rise, the concept of “mainstreaming” children with autism in public schools has become a much louder conversation. In fact, it’s becoming more and more likely that a child in school today will have a peer with autism, which is why it’s more important than ever to get in front of it. In other words, seven-year-olds like Molly-Raine shouldn’t have to explain themselves to every kid in class in order to be accepted — teaching peer acceptance and understanding should start as early as possible. In fact, many experts advise parents to set aside time before the subject even comes up to teach their children about autism and what it means. In doing so, the hope is to raise a generation of kids who are inclusive of classmates on the spectrum.
The CDC estimates that one in 68 children are now affected by autismspectrum disorder, up from one in 88 just three years ago. While it’s unclear whether the disorder is actually becoming more common or if it’s just more easily recognized by doctors than it was in the past, this means that there’s likely to be an autistic child in every grade at most elementary schools. The disorder can cause social and behavioral challenges which range from the mild to the severe. Children with ASD are often eager to make friends, but have trouble relating to others. ASD can make it tough to interpret other people’s feelings, too. Vocal tics are also common, which may further cause students in mainstream classrooms to ostracize their ASD peers. Children with ASD may also have sensory processing issues, meaning that they can’t handle loud noises or itchy fabrics, for example. They can also have a harder time than most kids when it comes to coping with a change in routine. Normal school occurrences like getting a substitute teacher or practicing fire drills can be very hard for these children to cope with.
So how can you get young kids to practice acceptance early? Experts and parents of children with autism agree that you can start slowly, just by talking.
Teach Kids The Basics About ASD
Explain to your child that some people’s brains work a little differently than theirs. We all use our brains to process the information that we take in by seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting. But some kids have autism, and that can make it tricky for their brains to process information. For example, they may not understand that a smile means that you’re happy to see them. They may not even greet you at all. But that doesn’t mean they don’t like you; they just express themselves differently.
Explain That Their Symptoms May Show Up In Class
A kid with autism may behave differently than the other kids in class. They might make sounds that you don’t understand, or they may get very upset by something that seems like no big deal to you. It can be very frustrating to live with ASD.
Show Them That Kids With ASD Can Make Great Friends
Encourage your child to come to you with any questions they have about autism, and urge them to be understanding of their autistic classmates. Look for examples of book and TV characters with ASD, as well as real-life heroes(did you know Dan Aykroyd has Asperger’s?). Kids with autism need lots of support from their families and schools, but it’s just as important that they have friends.