This guest blog post was written by RDI consultant, Cindy Bevier. You can read the original here.
Most of us can understand, at least at an intellectual level, that learning to cope with failure is a necessary life skill. Probably many of us view failure as simply a temporary detour we encounter on the path to success. If you google quotes on failure, you’ll read things like Thomas Edison saying “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”, or Michael Jordan, who said that “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Many of us EXPECT that our efforts eventually lead us to success, and believe that failure is just a stepping stone on the way. That belief gives us the motivation and courage to keep going despite obstacles. But as we grow up and age, we inevitably experience things that we can’t fix, erase, or make better in any way. We have to be able to pick ourselves up and keep going anyway.
Failure is absolutely the laboratory of resilience. Resilience is an important goal in RDI – consider these words by RDI founder Dr. Steven Gutstein: “Resilience, the ability to ‘bounce back’ from negative emotional experiences and to flexibly adapt to the challenging demands imposed by stressful situations, is considered one of the most important personal resources. A resilient person may bend but does not break when confronted with adversity, enabling him or her to bounce back relatively quickly.”
Dr. Ed Tronick, a leading developmental and clinical psychologist, has studied the social and emotional development of infants and children throughout his career. In his book “The Neurobehavioral and Social-Emotional Development of Infants and Children”, he describes how normal infants experience many mismatches in their interactions with adults, and that these mismatches are very important for infants to develop repairing behaviors and learning to maintain self-regulation. Infants who are unable to successfully repair communicative mismatches with caregivers begin to employ “coping behaviors automatically, inflexibly, and indiscriminately”.
We parents of children on the autism spectrum tend to work very hard at helping our children avoid failure. We watch in pain as our child doesn’t respond to a greeting , and we jump in immediately and answer for our child. We anxiously hover over our kids in the park, ready to make all things right when there is a dispute over a toy or whose turn it is to go on the swing. We avoid like the plague anything new or unexpected that might set off a tantrum or meltdown. We know our kids process information slower, are developmentally behind other children the same age, and we want to fast track them by skipping all the mistakes in the learning curve that we can through prompting, social skills training, video behavior modeling. But are these things really going to inoculate our children against unhappiness? In truth, doesn’t the lack of practice at bouncing back from failure actually increase emotional fragility and decrease resilience?
It’s really important and REALLY HARD, but we have to give our kids some challenges to overcome, and maybe even some problems that can’t be solved – where the real lesson is accepting the problem and letting it go.
Sometimes it’s just a matter of NOT stepping in to rescue – not telling your kid for the 10th time to get dressed because if he’s late for school, he’ll get a detention, just let him do the time! Can you tell where this example is coming from?(wink) So I’m challenging myself to come to great consciousness in this area – once a week, I am going to not step in to remind, not follow up with teachers on cryptic homework instructions myself, etc. And when the consequences come, I will model calm understanding of the situation and will express my admiration at the responsible way he responds (eventually!).
Cindy Bevier is the owner of Vistas Autism Consulting LLC, and an intern at the Integrative Autism Institute where she also serves as a Family Support Coordinator. She lives in Florida with her husband, teenage son, and yellow Lab Brandon. It is her joy to help parents develop into confident guides for their children on the autism spectrum by using the tools and principles of Relationship Development Intervention (RDI®) and mindfulness.