By: Lea Zweig, Psy.D.

Tips for Working with an Individual with Autism Spectrum DisorderOne individual who has worked tirelessly to help educate others about autism spectrum disorders is Dr. Temple Grandin. Dr. Grandin was diagnosed with autism in 1950. As a child, she communicated her needs by screaming, peeping, and humming, and she did not speak until she was 3 ½ years old. Her parents did not expect her to be high achieving and her classmates saw her as “weird.” Today, Dr. Grandin is one of the most well known individuals diagnosed with autism in the world. She has had a successful career as an innovative, livestock-handling equipment designer and now designs the facilities for half of the cattle in the United States.

Dr. Temple Grandin has also become a notable resource and speaker on the topic of autism. On her website, she discusses five helpful ways that she was taught appropriate social skills.

  1. Use Teachable Moments: When a mistake is made, never scream. Use a calm voice to correct the mistake made and offer children an appropriate alternative to the mistaken behavior. In this way, children can be redirected and encouraged to display more appropriate behaviors.
  1. Important skills to teach young children under the age of 8.
  • Learning to take turns (sharing)
  • Saying please and thank you
  • Shaking hands and greeting people
  • Shopping and learning the value of money
  • Encouraging creativity through art
  • Using appropriate eye contact
  1. Excessive praise is bad. In other words, use praise appropriate and moderately. In Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) methods, praise is used to help reinforce a behavior. ABA methods were used when Dr. Grandin was a child to get her to start talking. After she started to speak, ABA methods were phased out to make way for different developmentally appropriate methods of teaching. In Dr. Grandin’s childhood, praise was reserved for something special. Please and thank you were used as forms of praise for every day successes.
  1. Manage temper tantrums. In order to address temper tantrums, individuals interacting with the child must employ immediate, consistent, and repetitive strategies to help the child learn alternative ways to express his or her emotions. Dr. Grandin’s mother worked together with school personnel as a team to extinguish temper tantrums both at home and at school. Parents and teachers should have a system to address temper tantrums so the child experiences consistency across environments, which will help extinguish the unwanted behavior sooner.
  1. Address oppositional behavior. Provide a child with choices rather than engaging in a power struggle. An example of this would be: You can choose to take a 30 minute break before you do your homework and have dinner or you can choose to do your homework now and get extra fun time before dinner.

If you are a parent or teacher working with a child with autism, there are various resources available online. Dr. Temple Grandin’s website is listed below if you would like more about her ideas about The Autistic Brain. Other helpful resources are also listed below. – Family Services – Resource Guide

You may also consider reaching out to a child psychologist or family therapist for additional information, support, and guidance in parenting or working with individuals with autism spectrum disorder. If you need clarification or have questions about these tips, you may consider contacting a clinical psychologist who specializes in working with individuals with autism spectrum disorder.