Understanding Autism For Dummies
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As you're learning more about autism, this Cheat Sheet can serve as a handy reference to the related acronyms and helpful websites. It also provides tips on how to communicate with a person who has autism, make sure they get the most from their education, and ensure they are properly prepared for emergencies.

Questions to ask about autism interventions

Many “entrepreneurs” are only too happy to accept your money for their “miracle cures” or interventions for your loved one with autism. Keep your eyes open, and ask these questions to help you decide whether the intervention is genuine and effective:

  • What evidence supports the intervention’s effectiveness? Is the evidence independent research or just case studies? What’s the success rate of the intervention? Are there side effects or interactions?

  • Who else is offering the intervention, and how is yours better?

  • What other interventions are available? Can they be combined?

  • What’s the total cost? Will my health insurance or a government program cover the cost, or is it tax deductible?

  • Can I speak with other people who have tried this already?

  • How will the treatment help, specifically? How can I measure progress? What timeframe does the treatment call for?

Acronyms associated with autism

As with every other condition, autism has its own set of acronyms that it pays to become familiar with. The following table helps you translate some of the acronyms you’ll see and hear over and over during your life as a caregiver of or a person with autism.

Acronym What It Stands For
ABA Applied behavioral analysis
AS Asperger syndrome
ASD Autism spectrum disorder
BIP Behavior intervention plan
BMP Behavior management plan
ESY Extended school year
FAPE Free and appropriate public education
FERPA Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act
IDEA Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
IEP Individualized education program
IFSP Individualized family service plan
IPP Individual program plan
ISP Individual service plan
LRE Least restrictive environment
NT Neurotypical

Helpful autism website

If you have autism or are caring for someone with autism, you can find resources, information, and legal support online. The links in the following list can help open new vistas of aid and support:

How to communicate with a person who has autism

Communication is one of the biggest challenges for people with autism. To engage in conversation with someone with autism, you need to shift your expectations and perhaps your style of communication a bit. The tips in the following list can help you understand and be understood by a person with autism:

  • Speak slowly and clearly, and don’t expect an immediate response.

  • Be gentle, persistent, and patient. Don’t rush the person.

  • Provide direct instruction in social rules. Teach an emotional vocabulary.

  • Keep your communications simple. Don’t overwhelm.

  • Don’t force eye contact or touch.

  • Encourage special interests, but teach give-and-take in conversation.

  • Demonstrate behaviors, allowing time for observation and reflection.

  • Pay attention to non-verbal signals.

Ensuring your child gets the most out of their educational system

Your child with autism can thrive in school. To ensure that happens, you may need to be more involved in the educational process than parents whose children don’t have autism. However, the rewards of that extra investment can really pay off for you and your child.

The following tips can guide you and your child’s teachers to a good educational experience:

  • Insist on specific and measurable goals for your child’s IEP (individualized education program). Involve your child in the process.

  • Develop strong relationships with educational professionals. Keep it friendly, not adversarial.

  • Stay informed about educational laws, your district’s policies, and your child’s progress. Know your options.

  • Visit your child’s classroom to confirm that it’s an effective learning environment. It should have distinct areas for different subjects, comfortable lighting, good ventilation, appropriate noise level, and right-sized furniture, and the teacher should be approachable and fair.

  • Support your child at home by reinforcing what educators are teaching at school. Develop your child’s strengths; don’t just remediate.

  • If possible, make sure your child gets at least 25 hours a week of early intervention before age 3.

How to prepare for emergencies with an autistic loved one

For many people with autism any disruption of their routine is overwhelming. We know that a serious emergency situation is enough to throw anyone off-balance. So, if you have a loved one with autism, it pays to prepare as best you can before an emergency arises. Use the following tips to prepare your autistic loved one and your whole family:

  • Consider attaching an identification sticker to the door or window of an autistic person’s home to prepare a person coming in to help.

  • Create or purchase a medical alert tag, bracelet, or other notification that identifies a person with autism.

  • Network with relatives, friends, and others to establish a web of contacts for assistance if needed.

  • Register the person on the autism spectrum with the community 911 service as a person with a disability.

  • Have an evacuation plan, and review and practice it frequently with the person on the autism spectrum.

  • Project a sense of calm. People with autism often sense and reflect your emotion.

  • Learn more about emergency preparedness on the following sites:

Making an emergency ID card for a person with autism

If you have autism or you care for a person with autism, making an emergency ID card is a good idea. If you make a card for someone else, educate the person with autism to keep it on hand to share with people in confusing situations, such as when they’re approached by a uniformed person or when they have difficulty interacting with others they don’t know.

The front side of wallet-size card should give the name of the person with autism and two or three contact names and numbers. The next paragraph would be a good one to copy:

My name is ___________________ and I have autism, which causes me to behave in unexpected ways. Please contact one of the people listed here: (List names and phone numbers for two or three people.)

On the back of the card, you can include information on autism and offer tips for dealing with the person who has autism. Here are some ideas:

Autism Information
I may: Please help by:
Not understand what you say Not shouting
Appear deaf Speaking slowly and softly
Suddenly dart away Using concrete terms
Have difficulty speaking Giving me time to respond
Flap my hands or rock Explaining before doing
Not understand legal issues Employing visual aids for communication when possible
Be overly sensitive to shiny objects, sounds, touch, or
Making no sudden movements and

Warning me first if you must touch me

Feel free to print out this page and use it to design your own emergency card.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Stephen M. Shore received a regressive autism diagnosis at age 18 months, became nonverbal, and was deemed “too sick” to be treated on an outpatient basis. Today, he’s finishing a doctoral degree focused on helping people with autism lead fulfilling and productive lives. When not teaching college-level courses in special education and teaching children with autism how to play musical instruments, he consults and presents on autism-related issues internationally. Some topics of particular interest to him include comparative approaches for helping people with autism, education, and disaster preparedness for people with disabilities. He also focuses on challenges faced by adults in terms of self-advocacy, disclosure, post-secondary education, employment, interdependent living, and relationships.
Stephen holds bachelor degrees in music and accounting and information systems from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He also holds a masters degree in music education and is on the cusp of finishing his doctorate in education from Boston University. Although he seems to spend most of his time traveling in airplanes (Boeing 747-400 preferred), he resides in Brookline, Massachusetts, with his wife on the rare occasions when he’s home.

Linda G. Rastelli is an award-winning journalist, instructional designer, and author with 20 years of experience in writing and designing instruction for health, education, and business topics. In her career, she has focused on making complex and technical information understandable to the layperson. Although she has covered subjects ranging from financial ratio analysis to educational reform, her most challenging inquiry to date — an undertaking that has made her other projects look like finger painting in comparison — has been autism.
Linda holds a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Delaware and a masters degree from Columbia University. She lives on the New Jersey coast with her husband and her cat, who have reached a blissful state of detente. She hopes to keep her day job.

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