Supporting children in their perception of differences

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From learning about autism to encouraging acceptance and appreciation of differences: Val Jones has a story to tell…

It all started with a request to lead an assembly about autism for Key Stage 1 children as part of a school’s Disability and Inclusion Awareness Week. As an Autism Specialist Teacher, I had been asked to promote understanding of autism many times for older pupils, but this was the first time for younger children. I was wondering how to do this when a teenager with autism suggested using a teddy bear, as young children relate to soft toys. From there, the concept of a story about a bear with autism was born. A central message to share would be that we are all different and unique and that’s ok.

Children are often adept at noticing differences and it is important for the adults around them to help children make sense of these. Being curious and commenting on what they see is vital in early childhood development. Noticing differences helps children to construct their own identities and allowing children to be curious and to share their observations fosters inquisitive thinking and reasoning skills. 

What children may notice about children with autism or related needs
Children with autism may interact and respond to their environment in different ways than other children. They may have limited spoken language, echolalia or speak in an idiosyncratic manner. They may wish to play on their own or have a special game, where they have a rigid preference on how it is played. Other children may notice and comment about a child with autism repeatedly opting for the same activities or routines or taking longer to get ready, settle or perform tasks. They may have sensory sensitivities around sounds, textures, clothing, smells, food or the proximity of others. It is important to welcome and engage in conversations about differences children may point out. This helps them make sense of what they notice. Adults can guide conversations that can focus on what children notice about themselves and their similarities and differences. These conversations help teach about diversity, appreciation of one another and living in an inclusive world.

Let me tell you a story
Our social experiences and emotional responses are uniquely our own; we engage in friendships in different ways. Stories can be used effectively to lead into conversations about these differences, whether this is in a school or nursery setting or at home with family. For example, the story and illustrations in Bear: A Story of Autism and Difference provides opportunities for children to notice and talk about similarities and differences between themselves and a multi-coloured, non-gendered bear with autism.

Children can be encouraged to think about little changes they can make to help a child with autism feel more comfortable or to make an activity accessible for them. This also encourages cooperation. Having an opportunity to talk about differences freely helps promote acceptance of one another ‘just as they are’ and can lead to a greater sense of understanding, community and inclusion.

Val Jones
Author: Val Jones

Val Jones
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Val Jones leads Spectra Inclusion Support Team in Shropshire and Telford and Wrekin and writes picture books involving a bear with autism.

Website: https://bearautism.com
Instagram: @bear.autism

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