Are You Stealing Your Child’s Thinking?

This article was originally published on the SAIConnections blog page. You can read the original here. 

“You’re a thief, Kamini,” she said.

Noticing my shocked expression, she elaborated.

This was Joyce Albu, my consultant, giving me feedback about how I guided a 17-year-old Mohit in 2007. He had become heavily dependent on prompts by then.

Fast forward to the present – to 2016. Mohit and I share a beautiful, emotionally fulfilling relationship as son and mother. So do the parents who work with us. One of the activities we try while teaching children with autism is the ‘biscuit test’. I’m excited to share two of these videos with you. 

Watch how Viji stands back to let Vishal problem solve. He’s got to figure out how he can fit in so many biscuits in a small container.

Uma tried this simple exercise with Shraddha too. Note how Shraddha attempts to solve this problem differently. She has indeed come a long way, like all the other children. 

See how Uma also stays away as much as she can?

How interesting that while both individuals are presented with the same problem-solving framework, each goes about it differently.

I can hear the questions in your head.

“What’s the big deal about this exercise?”

“What’s important about emptying biscuit packets in a bunch of containers?”

“How is this helping the kids?” 

“Kamini, I could just tell my child to do it, and he would do it.”

You have a point.

But unless these youngsters solve the little problems of life, how will they solve the bigger problems?

In fact, this is much deeper than you think.

Changing our style of teaching children with autism from ‘static’ (outcome learning) to ‘dynamic’ (process learning) uses activities that require the child to ‘think’ his way to a solution. This, in turn, requires processing multiple stimulation simultaneously and builds stronger neurological pathways between the brain centers, strengthening the connection between them.

Here is an insightful point raised by Bill Nason:

“Have you ever experienced a situation where you reach the end of the line in a coffee shop and they’re out of your favorite food or drink? What do you do? You probably ask for something else or you head to another coffee shop right?

Think about your child, what does he do? Does he seamlessly go with the flow or does he end up having a tantrum or a meltdown? Life is a series of changes. Most things don’t go as planned. You and I navigate this world easily despite constant changes. But this is the most difficult thing for your child on the spectrum. How can he live a meaningful, independent life if he is unable to problem solve?”

You are now asking the next logical question – How should we enhance problem solving and dynamic intelligence in children with autism? Dr. Steven Gutstein has some effective tips for you. 

1. From Control to Curiosity

Watch yourself interacting with your child. How many times do you prompt him so that he gets it right?

Watch your own angst when he doesn’t get it right.

Is it more important for him to get it right, or for him to take his own decisions?

Make a conscious effort to reduce prompts. Be curious – see how he solves problems. I can assure you that you will learn a lot from the way he/she thinks. I have learned a lot from Mohit in the last few years.

communication for children with autism

2. Failure is okay 

“When you fall down, rise up. When you fall again, rise up again. This is just a developmental process that makes a healthy baby become a successful man.” Israelmore Ayivor

Failure is the key to building resilience – for everybody.

Yet when it comes to autism, why do we want our children to be perfect?

This phrase keeps circulating in my head: “It’s okay to make mistakes.”

It’s okay for your child to make a mistake too. Don’t rob him of the opportunity to learn from his experiences. 

3. Let the child complete his intentions

Recently, I was on a Skype meeting with Dr Gutstein and a family for a consultation.

We all laughed aloud when he suggested that the parents carry a book so that they could distract themselves with reading, while the child did what he intended to.

It’s important for the child to feel comfortable and confident about himself. This only develops if he himself takes a decision and then follows through with it – irrespective whether it’s right or wrong.

A few days ago, I was involved in a cooking session with a young adult. We were chopping potatoes. He reached out for a spoon and tried to chop with that! I had to hold myself back from stopping him (yes, even after all these years, I feel the urge sometimes).

But I let him continue. He tried, and then looked at me. I shrugged. He smiled and reached out for a knife and proceeded to cut.

Can you imagine how much more competent this young man will feel?

When you let your child complete his intentions, it feeds directly into his sense of self.

quotes make mistakes 

4. Trust that your child will do fine

Imagine this: You’ve asked your child to clear up his room. Do you start demanding that he does everything right from the word go?

He may take some time. He may put things in the wrong place. But what matters more is that you trusted him.

When you start trusting your child, your child will start trusting you. And that is the foundation to the communication experience that you desire to have with your child.

It’s a back and forth feedback loop. Trust forms the base of every relationship. 

5. Less is More

This is my all-time favorite. 

The less responsibility you take, the more responsibility your child will take.

I’ve experienced this with my students. If I hold their hand to help them with a task, they flop back and expect me to complete it.

But if I keep a distance, they’re automatically more aware and responsible. Not just with me, they’re much more aware when anyone hands them control. Think about how Viji and Uma gave Vishal and Shraddha space in the videos above.

Let go, let your child do it on his own.

It’s a conscious decision to make. Remember it starts in the mind first.

We want the world to give a fair chance to our children, right?

But before that, we’ve got to give them a fair chance to make their own decisions.

This is the first step towards becoming dynamic lifelong learners.

This is our first duty as parents: to equip them now so that they can deal with this complex, ever changing world.

Who knows how long, we the parents will be around. Don’t we want them to be empowered to live independently and dignity in this world long after we are not around too?

I’m truly honored to be part of our collective journey of autism. Imagine what a world this will be for them if we all feel the same way?

Kamini Lakhani is a, RDI program consultant and the Director of SAI School (ABA Center) and SAI Connections (RDI Center). She has over 19 years of experience working with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders and currently serves as the director of our RDI Professional Training Center in Mumbai. She is the Director of SAI School (ABA Center) and SAI Connections (RDI Center) 


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