Elizabeth eats veggie burgers – but we don’t hold it against her around here.
She writes the blog Autism Mom, where she shares “Autism ideas, news, strategies, tools and lessons learned from one mom with one child and one experience on the Autism spectrum.” She chronicles the adventures of her son, known as Navigator. One feature of Elizabeth’s site is the journey told in Navigator’s words. This includes posts and videos.
My favorite? The video, Navigator’s Advice. He’s all kinds of awesome. (“This is not a curse,” he says in my favorite quote. “This is actually a gift.”)
Today, Elizabeth’s here to with a take on parenting tips, but for those with a child on the spectrum. Please give her a warm CD welcome.
(Oh, the veggie burgers. She admitted to it in a post about fake sh*t and other travesties. We remember, but won’t hold it against her.)
A while ago I came across an article in Psychology Today offering its top 10 parenting tips. Although I like reading articles like this, I frequently have to adapt them to the unique perspective of being an Autism parent.
As an example, here are the parenting tips suggested by Psychology Today with my Autism Mom tweaks:
Identify your child’s strengths.
The article suggests identifying a child’s strengths as part of building the child’s self-esteem. For an Autism parent, identifying my child’s strengths is much more than building self-esteem – it can be the means through which I can communicate with my child, to help him learn social behaviors and norms that he doesn’t automatically see and mimic, and to allow him to tell me his needs and feelings.
For some parents, working with their child’s strengths can be the key to understanding and connecting with them.
Punishing a child is not as effective as using praise and rewards.
With Autism, unwanted behavior might not be about a power struggle and punishment, as well as rewards, can be meaningless and make things worse.
Unwanted behavior might be a meltdown due to sensory overload. It might be perseverative thinking – getting “stuck” in a thought – because of under-developed executive function skills. Or it might stem from anxiety caused by a black-and-white “no middle ground” thought process.
When one of these issues is driving the behavior, winning the power struggle – or getting a reward or avoiding a consequence – is not our son’s goal, and would not make the meltdown, perseverative thinking, or anxiety resolve themselves, and thereby stop the behavior.
His need is to feel better, to resolve the driving issue, not to win so we tailor our responses to help resolve the stress and then address the behavior.
Avoid negative emotional reactions, such as anger, sarcasm, and ridicule.
Many children on the Autism spectrum can be very literal in their interpretations – they might not recognize sarcasm and take what is said at face value. Once they realize the sarcasm does not mean what they thought it meant, they can become very offended.
More importantly, anger and ridicule can leave terrible scars. There is an unfounded assumption that children on the Autism spectrum do not feel empathy. It has been my observation in my son that the reality is quite the opposite – he greatly feels empathy and other emotions, so much so that he will shut it off because it becomes uncomfortable.
He experiences strong emotions, and his amazing memory means that he never forgets it, and can clearly recall the details and the way he felt. I work hard so that I don’t add to painful memories with negative reactions.
Don’t compare siblings.
For me this would be “don’t compare him to other children.” There were times when he was younger that I felt sad seeing socially adept children interacting at his school, thinking that he was probably never going to be able to interact like them.
I have learned that I was wrong. and now I don’t even think about that. I focus on whether he is happy, and on challenging him in ways that are appropriate for him, pushing his boundaries, and celebrating his growth and successes.
Get support if you need it.
This is true for any parents and doubly true for special needs parents. Supports can not only be the professionals that you and your child are working with, but other special needs parents as well.
Cherish those very special people who may not be special needs parents, but who accept you and your child with open hearts and arms. The ones who keep in touch, who keep inviting you to things, who politely and timely RSVP when you invite their children to your child’s party. Sadly, those folks can seem rare, so appreciate them when you find them.
Children need positive attention.
For a child on the Autism spectrum it needs to be not only positive, but also honest and accurate and about them, not you. You can’t give my son sugar-coated platitudes, he will just tune it out. He doesn’t know to play the social “how old are you, what do you like to do at school” routine that adults fall back on when talking with kids.
To truly give him positive attention, we need to listen to what he is saying and then enter his world, and talk about his interests. It is worth it.
Monitor your child’s use of the Internet.
We learned the hard way that the road from ice-age mammoths to a very nasty Internet neighborhood is extremely short. We use the content filters available on our Wi-Fi router software, computer operating software, Google searches, YouTube searches, and security software. I estimate these layers of protection are 85-95% effective, which means I still need to personally monitor what he sees via internet history, etc.
The other issue we are always aware of is the online interpersonal issues – bullies, predators, etc. With less developed social skills and a very honest, candid nature, it is important to teach him very specifically not to answer personal questions online and to walk away from online bullies.
We have a list of ways he can safely respond to online questions posted next to the computer which he can refer to when needed.
Accept that life changes when you have a child.
The article talks about things like parents losing their Saturday-morning sleep-ins and late night poker games.
For us it was learning a completely new way to parent to meet our son’s needs, all with the same goals as any other parents: That he will be happy and self-sufficient as an adult.
Parent by example.
This one didn’t really apply to us at first because he did not naturally look to us for examples of behavior. That is just not how his brain is designed. Now that he has been taught to watch behaviors, I am starting to see the mimicry that people talk about in kids.
It can be very exciting (and funny!) to sometimes hear my words and tone of voice used by my son when talking to me.
Don’t give up on your child, ever!
This is especially true for children on the Autism spectrum.
I follow many Autism blogs, read online Autism information, and have heard of many reports and stories of children on the Autism spectrum learning to speak in their 20s, being able to move away from supported living to independence, finding success in careers and relationships.
It is for this reason that I never despair of my son learning skills that he needs. To me, patience, time, and the knowledge that he will figure it out someday is the best parenting of all.