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Group advises on "intentional inclusion" for Autism Acceptance Month

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April is Autism Acceptance Month and a West Michigan advocacy group has some advice to create healthy interactions, especially between children

One in 44 children is affected by autism spectrum disorder according to the Centers for Disease Control.

There are an estimated 50,000 people living with autism in Michigan, about 16,000 school-age children.

“I like to look at it as these are just people with differences and that doesn’t have to be scary.”

Katie Bardsley is a Board-Certified Behavioral Analyst with Wedgwood Christian Services.

She offers some tips for parents to help alleviate the awkwardness and unease neurotypical children sometimes feel interacting with those who are neurodivergent.

For instance, share that kids on the spectrum might communicate non-verbally.

“They might use sign language, or pictures or iPads to communicate. To just open your children’s eyes to that can be very helpful.”

Neurodivergent people sometimes do repetitive or unusual behaviors, or deeply focus on one topic but Bardsley says children often find common interests.

“If your child likes to play with cars, there’s a good chance a child with autism also likes to play with cars.”

Children who are curious about peers who are different should be encouraged to ask polite questions, understanding the person may not answer and that’s ok.

Bardsley says being respectful, friendly and kind is the key to interacting well with anyone, and encourages “intentional inclusion.”

“It can help open other people’s minds - people who are not on the spectrum – to see how awesome and unique people on the spectrum are.”

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