Childhood is a wonderful time of growth, development, experimentation, and learning about ourselves and the world around us. Unfortunately, as adults, we often work against this natural time of development for our children. To help set the course in the right direction, here are five things every autism spectrum disorder (ASD) child needs.
1. Every ASD Child Needs to Be Given Worth
Parenting is complicated and hard. In my recent book, Flipping ADHD on Its Head: How to Turn Your Child’s “Disability” into Their Greatest Strength, I discuss a paradigm shift that we must make as parents. Not only does a person with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) not have a disorder, but they are the ones (we call them FastBrain) who often become the best athletes, top entrepreneurs, inventors, and thinkers that challenge the boundaries and push us forward.
Autism, however, is a “disorder,” but we still need to flip our understanding of those with the condition. Having a disorder has nothing to do with worth, dignity, and the value that the child brings to this world. ASD children are beautiful gifts to us all, even if they have a set of real challenges and difficulties.
2. Every ASD Child Needs to Be Understood
In conversations with my patients, I discuss how their brains work and how they are different, but not in a bad way. There is nothing “wrong” with them, and God did not say “whoops” when He made them. There are challenges, yes, but all those without ASD have their own set of challenges as well!
A few common challenges I’ve noticed is that they get anxious in groups or while making presentations, often lack compassion and don’t see how their actions affect others, find it easy to talk to adults but not their peers, have few friends, respond “inappropriately” to situations, push back when a teacher takes something, don’t understand why they can’t keep drawing when the rest of the class has shifted to math, and throw tantrums for seemingly no reason.
All of these responses need to be understood and worked through. Even while it might not make sense to others, there are underlying reasons for their behavior, and children deserve and need to be engaged and understood on that level. When we fail to understand their unique differences, we often respond with behavior and forms of discipline that crush their sense of self, dry up their creativity and imagination, and work against their overall ability to make progress.
3. Every ASD Child Needs to Be Celebrated For His/Her Differences
Since disorders like ASD can be hard to understand, many in the child’s circle of influence may attempt to place the same disciplines, boundaries, and learning techniques as they do to everyone else. The plow horse and the racehorse are different; they should both be equally valued but trained differently. Yes, ASD children are different than others, and they think differently, and their brain reacts differently. But is it bad? No. It’s just different, and our job is to look for and celebrate the unique value, perspective, and gifts that each child has.
While my clinic is primarily for those with ADHD, I have over 300 successful ASD individuals from ages 4 to 62! I have learned that many times their strengths far out-shadow mine. They can sit in a room and do taxes for days or evaluate charts for hours at a time. They build bridges that are exact, work on assembly lines, create detailed architect plans, and give back to the world in surprising ways!
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4. Every ASD Child Needs Unconditional Support
But often, early in their lives, their emotional tendencies, anxiety, and other unique struggles force them into a life of self-doubt and misunderstanding. These feelings are compounded by the negativity of overbearing parents, as well as the harmful effects of “well-meaning” responses of the “community” around those with ADHD and ASD.
ASD children get anxious in groups, and these group experiences continually teach and reinforce to them the fact that they are different (and maybe even that they don’t belong). When the core of one’s self-image becomes negative, it sets off a ripple effect of negativity that touches every aspect of the child’s life.
Conversely, I’ve also seen the incredible difference made when the child does have strong parental support and a network of peers and teachers that do reinforce the positive aspects of the child. These factors play a huge role in the child forming and determining a positive sense of his/her self-worth and esteem. Positive support can be life-changing at any stage in the child’s development. We’ve had many ASD students who come into the office with significant self-doubt and struggle that end up confident college graduates who become teachers, CEO’s, physicians, accountants, and engineers.
I believe it’s most important for parents to help their children develop, regardless of their ASD, into people who are happy with themselves, feel successful, and are given the opportunity to explore and give back to the world. Love and unconditional support are always the foundation for cultivating this positive path forward.
5. Every ASD Child Needs Practical Help
When parenting your child with ASD, you must work hard to figure out what helps and what doesn’t help your child on a daily basis. Try keeping a list of what you find that tends to work, and try to stay consistent to help build expectations. Here are several practical parenting strategies that have worked well with many of the parents of my ASD patients:
- Be specific. Their brains often think in black and white, not in shades of grey. For example, articulate that “We are leaving at 3 pm,” means 3 pm, not 3:10 pm.
- Give them advance notice of an event. If you cannot go to the ball game tomorrow, tell them the day in advance to allow their brain time to respond to the change.
- When going to a new place (like a school or doctor’s office), visit the location ahead of time to increase their familiarity.
- Try to keep their schedule as consistent as possible.
- Try to keep your actions and parenting approach as consistent as possible.
- For learning, teach to their strengths. Build on what they are good at.
- Find the positive and celebrate it. They do not necessarily like praise, and many times they do not respond to it, but they want it!
- Help them understand how ASD makes them different. Consider watching and discussing movies or YouTube clips together that feature an ASD individual.
- Put your child in environments with other ASD children to foster understanding, progress, and friendship.
We must work hard to understand and care for those with ASD according to how they think, how they learn, and how they react to situations. We should then embrace them for their unique personalities, strengths, and the blessings that they bring to this world.
This article was featured in Issue 102 – Supporting ASD Needs Everyday