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What should parents and other children know about autism?

NUTLEY – You are the parent of a child that is described as neurotypic, or does not display autistic thoughts or behaviors. But a classmate of your child is on the autism spectrum. Before planning a playdate or a big collection as a birthday party for your child, what do you need to know about autism to encourage a comfortable level of interaction for everyone?

Autism education is crucial in that sense and it continues to improve in the garden state, which has the highest degree of diagnosis in the country . However, the need for more specialized services remains high, according to Julie Mower, Managing Director of the Phoenix Center currently serving 1

45 students and their families across 61 cities in eight New Jersey counties.

The Phoenix Center does not diagnose autism, but the Mower said catching it as early as possible is critical. Her group helps people in the ages of 5 to 21 to assimilate in a classroom and eventually pass them over to adult occupations with the goal of making them functional, independent, happy and successful.

However, there are still many potential situations involving those with autism that happen outside the classroom or workplace, and which neurotypic children and their parents may not know how to handle. So during this autism awareness month, the Mower gave some tips to increase understanding of the disease.

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First, she said it is important to include children with autism in the social plans of their neurotypic peers. Someone who has autism may not see a classmate directly in the eye and may tend to "parallel play" – that is, playing next to someone instead of actively with them – but that means not that the child is completely shut down.

"It's really a spectrum, so a child may have eye contact problems or with loud sounds – another child may not at all," she said.

Autism also depends on a "sense of togetherness", especially for young children who "enjoy things that are predictable," according to Mower. She gave the example of dinosaurs as a topic that a child with autism may know a lot about, and how a friend may not understand why the child should talk uninterruptedly about an individual topic. But she preaches patience and suggests that the friend injects some of his or her knowledge about dinosaurs as a way to direct the conversation forward.

"Children with autism want what other children want," said Mower. "They really want to get friends, they want to develop friendship and are included."

Attention to the ever-growing national conversation on autism is another way to educate yourself, Mower said, referring to last year's "outstanding" introduction of puppet character Julia on "Sesam Street". And most of all, she stressed one of The Phoenix Center core values: Remember, every child who deals with autism is any son or daughter.

Patrick Lavery produces "New Jersey's first news" and is New Jersey 101.5 morning run breaking news reporter. Follow him on Twitter @ plavery1015 or email [email protected] .

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