This blog was published on the SAI Connections website. You can read the original by clicking here.
As a parent of a child on the autism spectrum, you see sparks of brilliance in your child.
Sadly, the rest of the world doesn’t.
“My 2 year old can read every word he sees, even the long ones. But he doesn’t understand what he reads.”
“He can type out words and small sentences, but that’s where it ends. He doesn’t comprehend what he writes or types.”
“My son is an accomplished singer. He has a gift for music, but he can’t take part in shows and competitions because he doesn’t like to take feedback from the judges and adjust accordingly.”
“He has extraordinary knowledge about airplanes. He knows about every fleet, past and present. But of what use is that? It’s just information.”
Your Important Role as the Parent Guide
Yes, dear friend. Your autistic child has immense capacity for absorbing information. But he doesn’t know how to use it or make sense of it. Sensory sensitivities make things even more difficult.
But I have good news for you. You can connect the dots for your child. You can help him make sense of the world. You, the parent, have an important role to play.
Over the years, I’ve gathered some tricks in my kitty. Today I’d like to share these with you.
Tips for helping your child to pursue independence:
1. Understand your child’s learning style
Every child learns differently. Gone are the days when auditory was the only way to learn. One day, I was passing by a school. 30-40 young voices shouted out in unison: “2 times 1 is 2, 2 times 2 is 4, 2 times 3 is 6…”
I cringed at what the children may be going through. What if there was a child on the spectrum in that classroom? And what if s/he was a visual learner Visual learners learn best by looking at pictures or reading words. Your child may be a kinesthetic learner who learns through the sense of touch. You are the best person to pick up your child’s learning style.
Related: Autism and Independence
2. Use representation
It was amazing to watch this child build elaborate buildings of wooden blocks. He looked like an accomplished architect creating beautiful structures. Up went a tall building on a narrow foundation. It couldn’t last too long. It crashed. He tried again, albeit a little gingerly. It crashed again. It took him all his courage to try again. But it crashed again. And he walked away.
Simple drawings or photographs can be immensely helpful here. I encouraged the mother to show him via a simple hand drawing what a building with a narrow base looks like vs what a building with a broad base looks like. Then the mother could model such a structure herself. Finally, let his brain put it together. Our job is to help him connect the dots. His sophisticated brain will do the rest – in it’s own way.
3. Focus on roles, not skills
Show your child the bigger picture. Instead of teaching skills, engage in joint activities. Assign roles for both of you. For example: in a dish washing activity, your child could soap the dishes and you could rinse them. Initially support him and show him how to soap a plate appropriately. Once he understands his responsibility, he will get better at soaping crockery, cutlery and dishes. When you show your child the bigger picture, the smaller pieces fall in place, too. If he understands the function (why), the skill (what) will follow.
4. Spotlight experiences
Remember the spotlight at the end of a play? That’s what you take away. It stays in your memory. When you engage in activities with your child take pictures of the fun moments. Short videos are wonderful too. Mohit and I had a great experience making aloo tikkis. To encode the experience for him, I took pictures.
We relived the experience as we looked at the pictures together. This made him feel competent about his accomplishments. We also talked about how much fun it was to share with friends. It motivated him to try out other dishes to share with his friends.
Connecting the dots for your child jumpstarts intrinsic motivation. Having a willing participant makes all the difference.
5. Use experience sharing language
A couple of days ago I saw a beautiful video of a youngster and his mother looking at pictures together. This young man has terrific procedural memory. He knew every person in the picture. He was able to recount the sequence of events. But feelings and emotions were missing. The mother beautifully added her own emotions to the recollection. “We laughed so much that our stomachs hurt, didn’t we?” Her son looked at her with a smile. Over time, he will share his emotions too. Instead of constantly asking questions, use experience sharing language. This is a beautiful, creative way of connecting the dots for your child.
As a parent, you play a major role. No one understands a child the way a parent does.
Be the connector for your child. Understand his learning style. Use representations. Focus on roles and not skills. Spotlight experiences. Use experience sharing language.
Watch this video of Umadevi and her gifted daughter, Shraddha.
Shraddha had made crispy paneer only once before. When she forgot a step, Uma reminded her to check her iPad. When Shraddha checked her iPad spontaneously, she figured the next step! My dear friend, it takes a mother who believes in her child. And then goes all out to ‘connect the dots.’ Be that mother who believes in her child’s potential. The sky is the limit.
We’re Here to Help You Guide Your Child to Independence
The RDI® program is designed to provide children with quality of life and, eventually, independence. We know that while skills are important, they come after the relationship between you and your child. Our RDI® Certified Consultants teach parents how to guide their children through key areas that lead to independence, and much of that starts with motivation and communication.
Not sure where to start? Request a consultant packet and learn more today.
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)