Oh, The Places You’ll Go! Building Community Integration Skills in Kids with Autism, Part 2

Library community integrationYou know you want your child to be a part of his community.

If you read my last article, you know that being a part of the community is something you have to teach. You also know how important it is to get started on teaching it right away.

I promised last time I’d share some specific ideas for autism-friendly places to go when you’re supporting you child in building his community living skills. You remember from last time how important repetition and practice is, right? If you’re going somewhere over and over you’re going to want to make sure it’s somewhere you like. Here are some ideas for places that might be welcoming, friendly and fun for your child with ASD.

1. Church/Temple/Mosque/House of Worship of Your Choice

I know, you don’t always think of fun and Church in the same breath. Actually, houses of worship get a bad rap: us parents are sometimes scared to take our kids for fear of judgmental glances or comments when our kids sing (or scream!) their way through the sermon. But faith communities are actually usually welcoming havens of tolerance and acceptance. It’s also a place where your child can have a place as a member of a community that does not depend on you pulling out your wallet. If you’ve been the recipient of unfriendly glances or ugly comments at your house of worship in the past, then consider trying another parish/congregation/gathering.

Almost every religion has some version of the Golden Rule, which teaches us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. If your community isn’t living this rule, find one that is. Your child will thank you for it!

2. Martial Arts

I like martial arts because there is less of an emphasis on competition and more of an emphasis on personal best. Plus, it gives your child the chance to get some physical activity which is always a good thing! Martial arts are great for self-discipline and self-esteem. If you can find a sensei (or teacher) who has experience with kids with autism, you’re golden! If you are in the Greater Toronto Area, Karate For Change is a karate studio that won the National Hero Award for its exemplary work in teaching children with special needs, including autism. Similar programs exist everywhere, and many studios that don’t specialize in autism still have teachers experienced in working with children with special isms.

3. The Library

To quote the great Caitlin Moran, libraries, like houses of worship, are one of the few public places where you are not a consumer, but a citizen. I know libraries aren’t what people first picture when they think of places to go to work on social skills. But social skills start with learning to tolerate the presence of others. If your child is interacting with the librarian when she checks out her books, then she is building her social skills and becoming a part of her community. Libraries also often have terrific story-times and other programs. Check out yours today!

4. Cooking classes/Art Classes (Or Other, Depending on Your Child’s Interests)

I’m a fan of classes because the socialization aspect is secondary, not the primary goal of the gathering. This takes the pressure off your child so the social thing can happen naturally and organically. And just being there is building his community integration skills. Many supermarkets (such as Loblaws) offer inexpensive cooking classes for kids, and there isn’t much performance pressure: these classes are just for fun.

5. YOUR Local Cafe/Restaurant

When you go somewhere regularly, you become a part of the fabric of the community. You become a regular: someone who is expected, welcomed, and accepted. People don’t just tolerate you, they look out for you, stick up for you, and welcome you. So if your child likes hot chocolate, choose one place that is your go-to spot. You’ll be a regular in no time!

What are some good places in YOUR community? Share your tips in the comment section below!

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Laura Cavanagh, M.A., OACCPP About Laura Cavanagh, M.A., OACCPP

Laura Cavanagh is a mother, therapist, and professor of psychology. She has extensive experience in clinical and educational settings, working with individuals on the autism spectrum and with other exceptionalities. Follow her on twitter @lcava or visit her website at www.smartstepstoronto.com .