Shadowing Your Autistic Child


Parents are children’s first teachers and never is this more true than for families of children with Autism. You take her to play dates, sports, therapies, and school and are expected to facilitate her participation in each. Your child needs guidance in a number of areas and you’re not sure when and how to jump in.

Balancing the role between parent and teacher is tricky, even for parents who have a background in education. These 5 tips for shadowing your child will help you clearly define your responsibilities and maximize your effectiveness in the role of shadow.

Keep your distance

If you’re too close, your child will learn to rely on you being there and be less independent. Stay close enough to jump in when necessary but do not hover. Also, stay behind your child so your influence is minimal- you want him to participate without needing you there.

When to speak, when to point

If you’re prompting your child to say something, you can provide her with a verbal model. For example, the teacher says hello to your child and she doesn’t respond. You can whisper in her ear “Hi, Mrs. Smith” to cue her. Keep other prompts non-verbal to minimize your child’s attention to you and focus her attention on the task or situation at hand. Pointing to or guiding her hand towards materials she needs for the group are good ways to prompt silently.


A picture is worth a thousand words

Visual cues are incredibly helpful for all types of learners. Showing your child a picture of an item he needs or a cue for appropriate behavior- for example, a picture of eyes to remind him to look at the leader- are easy ways to guide him. This also takes your influence out of the equation since he is responding to the picture and not you.


Save the chit chat for later

If you’re hanging back a few feet from the action, you may take the opportunity to engage in conversation with other staff and parents. Not only is your attention less focused on your child but even low chatter in the background is distracting for the head teacher and for the children. Talk after the group is finished.

Follow the leader

Focus your attention on your child but also keep eye contact with the leader. Follow her lead throughout the group. Since you can’t see where your child is looking while you are standing behind him, the group leader may gesture to you to refocus his attention. You want your child to focus on the leader without her always having to call his name.