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“Let him come to you. Don’t force him. Be invitational and don’t expect him to join immediately. Continue to demonstrate. Pause and wait. He will join eventually,” I said.
“Okay. Got it. That means I should demonstrate and wait for him. But shouldn’t expect anything from him,” said the father.
I smiled at that. “No, expect the world from him. Expect he will achieve great things. But don’t expect him to do it ‘your way’.”
This conversation took place on a Skype call recently. The child is 8 years old. The parents are extremely hard working and diligent.
It was an ‘AHA’ moment for them.
Slowing Down to Speed Up
When you wait for your child to join you, without coercion, it doesn’t mean you don’t expect anything from him. When you give him time to observe you, it doesn’t mean he’s incapable. When you’re invitational and he refuses to join you, doesn’t mean he’s acting up. When you guide at the child’s pace, it doesn’t mean you’re giving up.
It just means you respect his pace and learning style. You hold space and accept him for who he is. You believe in his intelligence and competence. And you expect him to flourish and have a wonderful life. You expect him to be successful, in his way. Not in a way you’ve determined for him. When you give your child this gift of true acceptance, he will show you his potential.
So how do you get to the place where you see him for who he really is? What steps should you take so your child can manifest his authentic self?
1. Work on yourself first
You need to be in an optimum state of mind to help your child. Examine yourself first. Are you fine – physically and mentally?
Till 2006 I wasn’t aware of how much grief I had carried within me. I realized the load I continued to carry when I got on the RDI® Program. Once I let go of the person I thought Mohit should become, he felt free to show me who he really was.
2. Understand your child
Your child is much more than his behaviors and actions. He is a highly intelligent person who doesn’t communicate or express like you and I do. Can you believe that? Do you accept him for who he is?
Before trying to work with your child, make sure he is regulated. You can do this by simply holding his hand and walking with him. Set up a simple pattern and then add just noticeable differences. Does he stay calm through it? Or you can toss a ball back and forth. Again, establish a pattern and then introduce little changes. Your child needs to be in a regulated state to learn.
4. Become a co participant
Be a guide and a co-participant, not a teacher or an instructor. What activities do you do around the house? If you do the dishes, let him join you. Have clear roles for both of you. If you soap the dishes, your child can rinse them. The idea is to do it together with him, not to be his instructor.
5. Challenge him
Once he’s comfortable doing activities with you, challenge him a little. Deliberately keep vegetables or ingredients hidden while cooking. Does he go get them? Can he problem solve? Don’t push him over the edge. Be there to bail him out if he requires help. Remember, it’s about expanding his mind – not teaching skills.
6. Understand his learning style
After you’ve spent quality time with your child, you’ll figure out his learning style. Many autistic children are visual learners. Others are auditory or kinesthetic. We work with a couple of young kids who are hyperlexic. We use their strength for reading words as part of their activities. It keeps them engaged. Figure out your child’s learning style.
7. Encode experiences
Let the child experience an event. For example: you could cook something together. Then write about what you did together. If your child is unable to write, you can write for him. You could show him pictures of what you did, and then help him type it out. It will help your child to encode activities and create short term memory chains.
8. Celebrate little victories
Don’t wait for big victories to celebrate. Celebrate small meaningful moments between you. Be happy and share your feelings. Let happiness permeate your relationship. This will make your child comfortable and help him share his feelings with you too.
9. Let your child’s uniqueness blossom
I’ve seen my students blossom and emerge into their potential. Mohit’s became an artist. Once Vishal was able to regulate himself and start learning, he was able to join a diploma cookery course through The Veruschka foundation.
Have Expectations For Your Child – And He Will Deliver
In conclusion, please do have expectations for your child. Hold space for your child by applying the pointers above and watch your child emerge. Like a butterfly from its cocoon.
Just don’t expect them to fit in a box you’ve created for them. They’re here to help you and me think out of the box. For them, there is no box. The sky is the limit.
Dear Parent, here’s a message for you.
After you’ve started that letting go, come back and look at your autistic child again, and say to yourself: “This is not my child that I expected and planned for. This is an alien child who landed in my life by accident. I don’t know who this child is or what it will become. But I know it’s a child, stranded in an alien world, without parents of its own kind to care for it. It needs someone to care for it, to teach it, to interpret and to advocate for it. And because this alien child happened to drop into my life, that job is mine if I want it.”
If that prospect excites you, then come join us, in strength and determination, in hope and in joy. The adventure of a lifetime is ahead of you.
– Jim Sinclair (on the spectrum)
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).