How to support children on the spectrum who may have difficulty understanding why others do not share the same opinions and beliefs.
How wonderful it is for a child, teen, or adult to have strong opinions and not be afraid to express them. A commitment to accomplishing something can be admirable, but how do we help those on the spectrum not get labeled as simply defiant for their strong commitments?
How do we help them understand each of us is likely to have strong beliefs and we must be respectful and tolerant of others’ opinions? How do we help them accept others may not agree with our beliefs?
How do we help them not to become hostile, combative, or resistant to others’ thoughts, ideas, and feelings and be labeled defiant?
I suggest we start with teaching the concepts of sharing and taking turns. We start with teaching how to listen to others’ stories. We read books to our children about different people having different ideas and making contributions in our world. We teach how to be respectful to mothers, fathers, grandparents, brothers, sisters, and classmates. We teach greeting people, thanking people, and valuing others.
Also label people’s feelings to them — point out facial expressions and what they mean. Talk about inside and outside voices, standing too close to others and allowing others to finish what they have to say.
Have them explore debate clubs — there are always two sides presented at a debate meetup. Each side must develop sound arguments for each position. Let them see there are at least two sides to every argument.
Use the dinner table to discuss topics and encourage each member of the family to express his/her perspective about the topic. Show your child there are always different feelings and thoughts about a topic.
Write down how it feels when someone disagrees. Point out to him/her that others’ feel the same way as they do when they are disagreed with.
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Teach effective conversation skills. Teach how the intonation and volume of their voice affects others and may turn others off to their ideas and beliefs.
Watch films of lawyers presenting cases. See if the audience can see what types of communication skills the lawyer is using.
Help them see how there are different styles of talking to different kinds of people in their lives. What kind of respect will they need to develop when speaking to their grandmother or grandfather? What about a classmate? boss at work? What about someone younger? A man versus a woman? What about an expert in the field of their topic?
Persuasive techniques should be researched. Alert them to the fact some people are convinced through reason, logic, and research; while others are more swayed by emotion. They need to know that just because they believe a certain way does not mean someone else is going to. They have to see that arguing with the other person may not get the other to respond in the desired way. After offering their thoughts and ideas to support their strong belief, they might have to accept the other person has a different strong opinion and move on. Screaming louder, demanding, or becoming aggressive will not move a person into accepting a different opinion—it is more likely to only push them further and further away.
According to language experts, generally we learn these things naturally, but a person on the spectrum may need to be taught social perspective, conversation skills, and etiquette. He/She will need to learn how his/her words affect others, that everything isn’t black or white, right or wrong. He/She will need to learn about collaboration,cooperation, and how different ideas help build businesses, laws, and scientific discoveries, even when finding answers to medical issues.
Individuals with autism will need to know there are many ways to resolve and solve problems. Therefore, it’s okay to hold strong opinions and it’s okay to have determination, but we all must be taught socially appropriate, effective communication and emotional strategies in delivering our opinions and using our determination.
Sharing strong ideas? Yes.
This article was featured in Issue 118 – Reframing Education in the New Normal