The secret to supporting autism is not in the strategies--it’s in the approach---a calm, kind, gentle approach. Calm parents, calm teachers, calm relatives, kind strangers all contribute to a successful life path for the autistic child.
Not one of our children can learn from someone that they don’t like, don’t trust, and doesn’t respect them. They certainly will not let their guard down for a person who is always reprimanding them, calling them names, or ridiculing them for moving slowly.
They also won’t do the work if we stand by their side, ready to pounce the moment they make the slightest mistake. Gawd! Could you live like that? Having someone catch your every misstep? “Ah ha! Gotcha!” Can’t imagine…Yep…if we could all just chill out and be considerate of the autistic child’s slower processing speed, her experience of the physical world, her unique learning style and special interests, she could mature to a functional and productive adulthood with self-esteem intact.
If we (in the universal sense—we in society) can do that--calmly approach autistic children and their challenges with respect, well, quite simply, magic can happen.
It’s really not that hard: we start by making sure we have a thorough grasp of their sensory processing experience. That understanding can change our actions and attitudes.
We can stop telling our autistic loved ones how difficult they are making our lives and how unreasonable they are for not eating what we’ve cooked, not wearing what we’ve purchased for them, not going down the slide or on the swing, or freaking out at us every time that toenails must be clipped.
Once a person is understood—“Wow. You really hate that, don’t you? I understand. Let’s see how we can figure this out so that you’re going to be okay with this,” anxiety stops escalating and solutions can be found. When we start with calm and we proceed by validating—wowzers—it can be life changing.
Now I don’t pretend that the process of gaining trust is going to be instant—especially if the dynamic has been challenging up until now. It would have been great if we all knew, the moment our autistic child was born, that he would need a different approach that our typical children. Too bad, but not too late. The next best time to start to change things is now.
I know this much: if we keep butting heads with our child, and nothing will change.
We also have to know how our child learns and what kind of educator they need in order to be successful. Each autistic child has a unique learning profile and we have to ensure they are taught in consideration of their learning styles by educators who understand them.
Great teachers know that before any learning can take place, a strong relationship has to be established. If we could spend more time around the conference room table in schools deciding on the best match between student and teacher, can you imagine how much better school would be for autistic children?
Can you imagine how much better HOME would be for autistic children if the rigid parent realized that it is not discipline that their child needs but understanding and unconditional love? If the rigid parent would stop arguing with the intuitive parent in front our exquisitely sensitive autistic children about how they coddle, pamper, and cause the autistic behaviors in our children?
Now don’t misunderstand—though I’m convinced that the right approach is essential for predicting mental health, academic success and positive relationships among ASD children, I am not saying be nice and let all else go. Another indicator of success in autism is being raised by parents and taught by teachers who have high expectations of the child. Competence is assumed, and the adults use the child’s srengths to entice him forward.
In addition to understand the sensory and learning needs of the child and calmly supporting these, it is also incredibly helpful to understand the implications of another autism-related difference: slow processing speed.
That jargon phrase is tossed around so much yet is poorly understood. Simply, slow processing speed means this: allow the child several second to respond to what we’ve requested. Autistic thinkers do not processes every bit of information simultaneously like a typical thinker may.
Rather, information is considered one bit at a time and therefore, it takes longer to respond.
If you rush the autistic person, you literally slow them down. The processing time, which can be about 10 seconds, will start all over again. Keep yelling because she’s making you late for work, and you may also add anxiety. The result can them be meltdown or complete inertia.
If we can be calm and we plan ahead, things can go better. Accept that the child needs a visual reminder of all his morning tasks. Accept that he takes longer to become alert in the morning. Accept that she takes longer to do things, and then plan for that time. The rule of thumb? An autistic child can take twice as long to do half the work. The College of Family Physicians of Canada suggests that we wait about 10 seconds for our children to respond, and they advise parents that patience is a necessity.
Not sure that doctors really understand how much work it is to raise a child with ASD, but they are right: we should be patient, but dammit! It’s not easy.
Let’s be honest: it is sometimes a challenge raising a child with Asperger's. It’s a steep learning curve and we tend to worry day and night and night and day about what will become of our child. We focus so much on this day's homework, tomorrow test, next year's teacher, his loneliness, his gaming, his teeth, her weight, his isolation, and no friends! (quick breath in) .... grades for college or university; will he have ever have a girlfriend? what if has a girlfriend!? the transition to post-secondary...what about marriage!!!!
Oh . My. Goodness. Where do these kids get it from, huh?
We don't stop often enough to catch our breath and savour the delightful moments of his childhood. We should. Worry and anxiety are not good for anyone's health, and they rob us of fully enjoying our day...or our partner. It is hard to feel romantic if you are a ball of anxiety.
I am not suggesting the challenges are small. I am suggesting we do what we can as needed and then we let it go for the day. In doing our best today, we are setting our children up for success tomorrow. In learning to relax, to roll with the punches and deal with life as it comes we are being the very best role models for our children.
In my family, the very best thing I ever did for my child was to become intentionally calm. Even when he'd come home with multiple homework assignments, looming exams and an essay he'd forgotten about, I'd adopt the calm voice and say, 'No problem, honey," and then I would help him figure it out. I would force my body to move as though calm as well. Did I feel calm? Hell no!
Funny thing about 'acting' calm, though.
It was contagious, and then, as now, if I am chilled out, so is my son. If I escalate, even ever-so-slightly, he mirrors that to a tee. My approach to him…to life—is a huge indicator how any interaction is going to pan out.
So…my secret to raising or teaching a successful autistic child? A calm and gentle approach. Find your own peace and watch it spread.
Exercise, reading positive psychology books, Mindfulness: all of these things can help you to develop a quieter inner dialogue, enjoy the moments of your life, and help to raise a child more open to hearing what you have to say or absorb the lesson you are trying to teach.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to stick my head outside the window (where he can't hear me) and scream.