The beautiful thing about autism is that oftentimes children and adults become hyper focused on one subject. Their interests can range from reciting lines from movies, to remembering stats of sports teams, to playing video games, to being gifted in art, to playing an instrument.
The list of interests goes on and on. The number of interests that children with autism choose to engage in is quite large, however, it is YOUR job as the caretaker to help your child identify what that interest is.
Children with autism are not going to spontaneously come up to you and say, “I want to take music lessons.” or “I want to take coding classes.” You, the parent or caretaker, will have to observe and identify what your child is interested in, do some research around that interest, expose them to classes that will make that interest functional, and begin to turn that interest into a career.
For example, if your child recites lines from movies, look for drama classes that they can participate in. If your child loves music, expose them to different instruments until they find one he/she likes to play and start music lessons. If your child is interested in playing video games and likes electronics, find a coding or gaming class. Begin to turn your child’s interest into something that is functional and with that comes passion.
Often, children with autism become hyper focused on one interest to where it loses its functionality. Your job as a parent is to take your child’s interest and make it functional. Turn an interest into something he/she is passionate about and it is that passion that may turn into a paying career. Discovering an activity that your child is passionate about is very healthy for your child.
Firstly, it decreases stress and anxiety because your child is engaging in an activity they enjoy. Next, it fosters social bonds with like-minded people and helps your child socially connect with others. Lastly, when your child participates in an activity that he/she is good at, it provides internal motivation to keep engaging in that activity because they want to get better at it. This internal motivation is what fosters positive self-esteem and happiness. Think about when your child is the happiest.
It is most likely when he/she is hyper focused and engaging in that one activity he/she loves that is not functional, such as scripting lines of movies or memorizing names of dinosaurs. So, imagine turning that happiness into a functional activity that your child loves.
Imagine all the things that your child could accomplish in life. I have former and current clients who have turned their interests into pursuing careers in golf, becoming musicians, cartoonists, mechanics, engineers, statisticians, etc.
This all started by me encouraging their parents to begin to focus on what they were interested in and to find functional activities that fostered it. Below I have listed three pieces of advice that I share with parents to help them find their child’s interests.
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1. EXPOSE, EXPOSE, EXPOSE!
Parents will come to me and say, “My child will not like music class, or my child will not participate in a swim class.” My answer is you haven’t found the right class, or you have not found your child’s passion. Trust me when I say this: when you find your child’s passion, he/she will want to go to class, take direction from a teacher, and socialize with others.
Until you find that passion, I recommend you expose your child to everything from music, to different sports, to adventure camps, to drama, computer classes, etc. It is your job as a parent to keep exposing your child to different activities until you find one that sticks.
2. Age Doesn’t Matter
Age is only a number. If your child at the age of two is showing interest in music expose him/her to different genres of music and start music or voice lessons. If your child 16 and is interested in animals have him/her volunteer at an animal shelter or sign them up for zoo camp. I had a client at the age of 15 decide he was interested in raising farm animals. His parents did some research and signed him up for the 4-H Club. While in the club, he raised cattle and found a love for raising lambs.
This client loved raising farm animals so much that he decided to major in agriculture and ranching when he begins college next year. This client also met Temple Grandin where he chatted with her about ranching and raising cattle. Pretty impressive especially when he discovered his passion at the age of 15.
3. Functioning Level Does Not Matter
I have clients who range from highly verbal to clients who are completely non-verbal who have found their passion. Just because your child isn’t able to express his/her wants and needs verbally doesn’t mean the child cannot be passionate about something. I have a client who is 16 years old who recently discovered his love for painting.
Within three months he was painting incredible portraits. His paintings are so inspiring that his mother is helping him start an online store where he will be turning his paintings into postcards and selling them. Every time he completes a painting, he is so happy and proud of himself and his work and he shows us by giving us a beaming smile. Remember, a smile says a lot, and you do not need words to smile.
When your child finds something he she is good at and finds a passion, life begins to have a purpose and meaning. It does not matter the age or functioning level, every individual with autism has a purpose in life. It is your job as the parent to help him/her find it.
The world is a blank slate and with the right guidance your child can accomplish anything!
This article was featured in Issue 101 – Balancing The Autism Journey