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Community Integration Most of us in the field of autism agree that community integration is important.

Whether you’re a parent, a clinician, or an individual on the autism spectrum, being a part of your community means being a valued and contributing member of society. Being recognized and appreciated for your gifts, whatever they might be, is important for every individual’s emotional well-being, whether or not you have a disability.

Who Benefits from Community Integration?

It’s not just individuals with autism that benefit from successful community integration. You know who else benefits? ALL OF US.

Society as a whole loses out when individuals with autism can’t find their place in our communities. We all lose out when the unique gifts of individuals with autism are not appreciated, valued, and put to work in our society.  As the rates of autism continue to soar, we will be facing a crisis if we, as a society, cannot find a place for individuals with autism to share their gifts with their communities.

Teach Community Integration Skills

Teaching community integration skills is not magic! It really isn’t any different than teaching anything else. We get intimidated by it.  You hear a lot of comments like “he’s not ready” when you suggest it.  The real issue is often with us neurotypicals – we’re worried there might be some kind of meltdown or behavioural issue that will lead us to being judged in a public place.

Well, get over it. Actually, better yet, get over the people who have nothing better to do than make judgey faces at a child with autism.  THEY are the ones who should be working on their social skills! Teaching community integration skills is of the utmost important, so don’t drag your feet on it. Here are some Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) based tips to make it easier.

Practice

Think of how many trials a child with autism sits through when they’re learning their colours.  For you non-ABA types, a trial just means a single exercise.  Every time you ask “what colour is this?” or “Point to the red one”, that counts as a single trial. To teach 15 colours you are easily looking at upwards of a 1000 trials.

We practice, practice, and add more practice because we know that repetition is the key to maintaining learning. Now, if you go once a week on an outing to teach community integration skills, guess how long it will take you reach 1000 trials?

Over nineteen years. That’s right, NINETEEN YEARS.

Community integration is not something that you can practice once a week. It’s something that the child has to live every day, several times a day, because only practice makes perfect.

Repetition is the Key

If you’re teaching shapes to a child with autism, you start with one shape. You can move on to the triangle once the child reliably recognizes a circle. You don’t start out trying to teach rectangle, octagon, lozenge, and dodecahedron all on the same day.

The same should be true when you’re teaching community integration skills. Pick ONE spot that will be your spot to go to. Let’s say you decide you’re going to go to a coffee shop and have your child interact with community members by ordering and paying for a juice.

Go to the same coffee shop, over and over, at least for the first while, and try to go at roughly the same time. Take the same bus or walk the same route to get there. Yes, you want to introduce some variety into your child’s repertoire, but give her a chance to learn the skill first!

Not only does repetition help your child learn, but repetition is also what makes us a part of a community. When you’re a regular somewhere, you become a part of fabric of the place.  You are an individual, not just a faceless part of the crowd.  With that familiarity comes not just tolerance but true acceptance.

Focus on Strengths

When we think of community integration, our minds often jump to highly-social activities like joining a soccer team or signing up for camp.  Any time you are helping your child learn to do something out in the community and even to tolerate the presence of others, you are strengthening his community integration abilities and his social skills.

Think of things that your child is good at, and things he will actually enjoy. You want to make sure that doing things out in the community and as part of the community isn’t too much of a chore.

Explore More >> Oh the Places You Will Go!

It’s Everyone’s Job

If we, as a society, are to benefit from the strengths of individuals with autism then it is everyone’s job to help make the community more autism-friendly. Smiles, friendly words or kind gestures can go a long way to making a child and her family feel accepted or welcome.

It’s the little things that count. Remember, we all lose if people with autism become marginalized and isolated to the point that their chance to grow up and become a contributing member of society is jeopardized. So let’s all do our part to make the world a little bit more of an autism-friendly place! 1 out of every 68 people have autism. (1)

Do you have any tips for community integration? Please share them with us on Facebook.

References

(1) “CDC Estimates 1 in 68 Children Has Been Identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2016.