Achieving the Best Possible Future: Tried and True Tips
Best Possible Future
As my son prepares to graduate from college, I reflect back on the arduous and gratifying journey of raising a child with autism. I think about trying to help my son develop the skills and tolerance he needed to succeed, especially when faced with barriers imposed by well-meaning professionals, intransigent systems, and advice-pushers in our lives (e.g., “Don’t you think it would be better to…”). I also think about the champions – the teachers, coaches, employers, and friends – who supported us, creating opportunities for my son to be included and accepted in typical, meaningful routines and experiences. As I take this journey back in time, it becomes clear to me that there were certain key ingredients to our success:
Use Social Stories
A child who does not attend to details (or understand social nuances) can often get confused about upcoming events, which is anxiety-producing. Telling a “story” at the end of the day about everything that happened that day, and the expectations for tomorrow’s schedule can be a big help.
Teach About Family
Living far away from close family members or having limited exposure to them is challenging. Create a picture “board book” of people in the child’s life and look through it regularly. Provide short bits of information on each person, such as, “Here’s Uncle Peter. He is married to Aunt Carolyn and he gave you a teddy bear when you were born.”
Always Plan Ahead
Before any new endeavor, take some time to visit the facility and orient your child to the surroundings. For example, we always dropped off our school supplies a few days before school began so that we could see the classroom and where my son would be seated, lessening his anxiety about the new school year.
Prepare Other People
Talk to people who will be working or interacting with your child to make sure they understand his strengths and needs. Do not assume that information has been shared between professionals or that people will understand without explanation. Review educational goals with teachers and expectations and skills with others supporting your child.
Being your child’s advocate is important, but ultimately you want your child to communicate with others to meet his needs – even if that communication is uncomfortable. For instance, if your child wants to quit the Boy Scouts, encourage him to tell the leader (even if you help by preparing the adult for the conversation). Likewise, if your child is to sell raffle tickets, candy, popcorn or cookies, don’t usurp his power by taking over. Guide him to approach people or send emails. Allow your child to have the empowering experience of accomplishment and control over his own life.
Related: Independence and Self-Advocacy
In preschool, encourage social skills by setting up a play date at least once a week. Although you may be tired and overwhelmed, even an hour spent outside of school with a peer provides great role modeling and encourages relationships. Once your child is older and more skilled at friendship, encourage him to choose his own friends and organize the activities.
Related: Five Ways to Cultivate Friendships
Listen to Your Child
It’s painful if your child doesn’t want to participate in things that you think that he should enjoy, or that you enjoyed as a child. For some children, amusement parks, fairs, children’s museums, holidays, and parties can be very stressful. Avoid shaming or blaming your child if you have worked hard to make something happen that he just does not enjoy.
Model how to behave when things don’t go your way by expressing frustration, engaging in problem-solving, and accepting losses. During games with your child, say things like “I lost this game but I’ll try to win the next one” or “It’s a bummer to lose, but it’s only a board game. I have other things I do well” Help your child generalize these skills across challenging circumstances they may face.
Looking back, these elements were helpful in my son’s journey. I hope that he takes what he has learned with him to face life’s joys and difficulties throughout his adulthood.
Meme Hieneman, has a Ph.D. in Special Education and is nationally certified as a behavior analyst. She has published a variety of articles, chapters, and books including “Parenting with Positive Behavior Support: A Practical Guide to Resolving Your Child’s Difficult Behavior.” In her professional career, Meme has worked with children with severe behavior problems for more than 20 years.
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This post originally appeared on our July/August 2015 Magazine