How to talk to typically developing children about autism

Mar 08, 2022 at 10:00 am by Heather Cadenhead

If your typically developing child is frequently in the company of an autistic child, your typically developing child might have questions. Here are a few talking points for starting conversations about autism and learning differences with a typically developing child.


Why doesn’t my autistic friend talk to me?

Your autistic friend might find it difficult to talk. We all have things that we can’t do. Most children don’t know how to drive a car, for example. In the same way that you might find it difficult to drive a car, your friend with autism finds it difficult to talk. Talking requires a lot of steps and movements. It is a lot of work to talk! Being able to express your thoughts and feelings is a wonderful gift. Please don’t pressure your autistic friend to talk back, but absolutely feel free to say hello!


How do I play with my autistic friend?

Playing — like talking — is another thing that might be difficult for your friends with autism. If you want to play with your autistic friend, the best way to do that is to watch your autistic friend. See what he likes to do! Does he like swinging? Say hello and swing next to him. Does he like playing with trucks? Say hello and play with trucks next to him. For children with autism, parallel play is often easier than cooperative play. The best way to play with an autistic friend is to say hello to your friend and play near your friend until he tries to play with you. He might try to play with you after a little while or he might not, but your friend will feel happy knowing that you enjoy his company even if he can’t play in the same way that you do.


Does my autistic friend hear me?

Your friend with autism might not look at you when you say hello. That doesn’t mean that your friend does not hear you. It means that looking people in the eye is difficult for your friend. Say your friend’s name (e.g. “Hi Otis!”)  if your friend isn’t looking at you. It helps your friend know that you are talking to him and not to someone else. He still might not look at you, but it helps him feel included! We all like being included! Remember — not looking does not equal not listening.


Why does my autistic friend need extra help?

Sometimes our friends with autism need extra help eating or using the bathroom. Sometimes they don’t. It depends on the friend! It doesn’t mean that your friend is a baby or wants to be treated like a baby. It just means that he needs extra help with things that might come easily to you. Just like you might read longer books than some of your other friends, you might be able to do more on your own than your autistic friend can do. That’s okay. We all need help sometimes. Sometimes your autistic friends will surprise you with what they can do when you least expect it!


What should I do if my autistic friend is upset?

If your autistic friend seems to be upset, step away to give your friend space. If you’re worried your autistic friend might be hurt, please tell a grown-up immediately. If your autistic friend accidentally hurts you, you should also tell a grown-up immediately. Do not let anyone hurt you for any reason. If this happens, tell a grown-up immediately.


What does the Bible say about how to treat others?

The Bible tells us to “treat others as you want them to treat you” (Matthew 7:12a, Contemporary English Version). If your autistic friend wants to be left alone, ask yourself how you’d like someone to treat you if you wanted to be alone. You’d probably want to be left alone, right? If your autistic friend does something a little unusual, ask yourself how you’d like someone to treat you if you did something a little unusual. You wouldn’t want someone to make fun of you, right? Our friends with autism are different from us in some ways, but similar to us in other ways. We all want to be treated with kindness and respect. Your autistic friend wants to be treated with kindness and respect, too. The Bible is a wonderful guide for playing with friends who might be a little different than us!


Discussion Questions

  • Is it OK to pressure my autistic friend to talk to me?

  • What is the best way to play with my autistic friends?

  • According to the Bible, how should we treat others?


Heather Cadenhead graduated from Union University with a degree in English and Professional Education. After graduation, Heather worked in both education and publishing. Her writing has been featured in publications such as Autism Speaks, The Mighty, Mothers Always Write, and others. Heather currently teaches both of her sons at home. She shares homeschooling ideas @

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