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Explaining Abstract Concepts to Children on the Autism Spectrum

"How can a parent explain abstract concepts of friendship and love to an 8 year old daughter with ASD?"

Talking about abstract concepts with a youngster who has ASD level 1, or High Functioning Autism (HFA), can be challenging. Typically, kids with HFA have a very difficult time understanding abstract concepts, especially those that have to do with social interactions. When you talk to your daughter about friendship and love, understand that this will not be something she can grasp overnight.

A great deal of the conversation depends on the age of your daughter. Younger kids, especially elementary school age, will likely be talked to about friendship many times. Keep the conversations as concrete as you can, using specific examples. If your child has a good friend, talk to her about what sorts of things she can do to nurture that friendship.

She can invite her friend over for play dates. She can share her toys. She can talk to her friend, especially when her friend wants to talk. She can be a good listener. Using specific examples, you can explain to your daughter, over time, what friends do for each other, and what friendship means. Helping her understand this will enable her to better create and nurture friendships when she gets older.

While your daughter is young, you will want to introduce the concept of love to her. Explain that love is a feeling, and talk to her about times when she might feel that feeling. She loves her mom and dad. She loves her siblings. She loves her pets. Helping her to identify that feeling will help her understand the emotion. You can also talk to her about how she treats people she loves. Give her concrete examples of ways she can act and things she can do to nurture a loving relationship. This might include holding hands or hugging, or a kiss good night.

As your daughter gets older, you will need to continue to talk with her about the changing nature of her feelings and the nature of her relationships. She may have feelings for boys that she has trouble identifying. Talk to her about those feelings and help her give them names. 
You will need to talk about the varying degrees of love, such as the love she might feel for a good friend and the crush she might have on a boy in her class. Discuss appropriate ways to act on those feelings. It’s important to help your daughter identify her own feelings and give them names. She will then need to talk about the appropriate ways to act when she has those feelings.

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:

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