It’s no secret that children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may need a little extra attention when it comes to learning. And as far as communication goes, parents of children with ASD find themselves second-guessing and even triple-guessing themselves every day. Now obviously, the job of a parent is to love their children no matter what. The love we have for our children is capable of driving us to overcome any challenge.
Facilitating learning within children with ASD is difficult because they develop in a different rate than typically developing children. Children may not gain their ability to walk until they are three years old. It is also possible that children with ASD develop in an ‘out-of-order’ arrangement–they may learn to talk before they learn to walk.
Step one of parenting autistic children: You and your child are a team. Be prepared to learn a few lessons as well. Although you won’t be learning to communicate, you will be learning how to be more patient and how to power through obstacles that you and your child face.
Step two: Remember that they aren’t any less intelligent than other children– they only require a little ‘push’ to reach their potential. DO NOT GIVE UP!
With therapy sessions, school, and everything in between, parenting can be just plain exhausting. An important characteristic to have as a parent of an autistic child is grit, which is the strength of character that drives us to accomplish our goals. So, to serve as a daily reminder to persevere, I present to you: G.R.I.T.
G: Growth mindset. Having a growth mindset is the belief that through hard work and practice, anybody can achieve anything they want. It is imperative to fully support your child in their journey. If you don’t believe your child will grasp a concept, it won’t happen. The way we interact with our children non-verbally is worth 1,000 words. This is because children with ASD oftentimes struggle to communicate verbally or understand verbal cues. Kids often look at body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. They want to see that we are proud of them and that we love them–so look at your child in a way that is reassuring, don’t look at them disparagingly. Even when it seems as if you’ve hit a roadblock, there will always be a chance to grow. Look at every day with optimism–It will go a long way.
R: Resilience. I get it. Some days, it seems like you’re taking one step forward, and the next day, two steps back. It may get frustrating that after weeks or even months of work, your child still may not be showing any signs of improvement in certain areas. Along with working hard to help your child thrive, there is also the daily struggle of others viewing your child’s ASD as a “disability.” While yes, this is technically true, we tend to be hurt when we hear the name of our child and the word ‘disability’ in the same sentence. There are two choices in this situation:
1- Let it discourage you.
2- See your child’s disabilities as different abilities.
Look past what you may see as limitations for your child and see strengths instead. Eye contact and conversation may not be their forte, but have you ever noticed that they don’t pass judgment on other people, cheat, or lie? Your child has a gift of genuineness. Appreciate it and be proud of it!
I : Identify. Be aware when you’re around your child. If you are diligent, you’ll be able to pick up on small non-verbal cues that your child is giving you (for example, noticing different facial expressions in certain situations.) A strategy that helps a child with ASD thrive is consistency. Repetition in learning is crucial, so when a structured schedule is used, grasping concepts and feeling more comfortable with day-to-day life becomes easier for your child. For most kids with ASD, words are very difficult to interpret. They don’t understand phrases such as “hold your horses” when you mean to say “stop running,” or “sit tight” when you mean to say “stay where you are.” Although it’s a difficult task to avoid using common idioms that are simple to understand to us, children with ASD are visually oriented, so they picture exactly what they hear. Speak literally, and an understanding between you and your child will be formed much more easily. Don’t take your child’s visual learning abilities for granted. There are many opportunities to teach your child skills from eye contact to focus on sensory activities.
T: Take your time. Referring back to the resilience step, learning takes time. Your child is most likely not going to magically show results overnight. In some cases, children can go almost three years of their lives before taking their first step. Patience goes a long way in showing your child that it’s okay not to get it. Trust me– It’s practically impossible for any child to grasp concepts and abilities on the first try. In fact, it would probably be in your best interest to drop the idea of expectations completely. Thoughts of “why can’t you ____?” and “things would be easier for you if you would just ____” only wound us and our children with feelings of discouragement and disappointment. Your view of your child’s accomplishments should not be that they are good enough, but that each small concept they learn is one huge leap forward.
As a parent, you are the foundation to the rest your child’s life. Each time you choose to work with your child without expectations, a stepping stone to their future is laid. Without your support and unconditional love, they will not be able to reach their full potential. Raising a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder is challenging, but very much worth it. The hard work both you and your child put into growing as people will pay off in the long-run, and don’t forget that a special bond between only you and your child is being formed along the way. Be proud of your child and hey, be proud of you, too.