Competence, as we know, is the best motivator.
So when we, as parent guides, start introducing just-noticeable-differences and the child who doesn’t really like change sees the difference and suddenly feels very competent, that child is now motivated to take on his own learning. It’s like, “I can do this and I want more!”
So all of the simple and everyday experiences we enjoy with our children become huge in terms of their growth.
This is just one obstacle that we can help overcome when it comes to raising our children with autism and putting them on the path to independence from a young age.
Kat Lee: Welcome back to ASD, A New Perspective. The podcast show where we help you understand what is going on in the mind of your child and we encourage you that growth for your child is possible. I’m Kat Lee, and in today’s podcast, Dr. Rochelle Shealy discusses the road to independence and the obstacles to independence we and our children can have. Let’s listen in.
Kat Lee: One of the things that really strikes me about independence is that we talk about how that’s from when they’re babies, you need to be thinking about it, not when they’re 18, 19, 20. But as I was thinking about planning and every year people start thinking about new things and thinking about their children developing, one of the things I was thinking about is as parents, we start out with the best of intentions, but our children become five, six, seven and we can lose our path on thinking down the road to independence. You and I talked about when they’re really young, three, four, five, but that’s what I see as hard. I guess I would call it the journey is keeping that top of mind. Do you see that with parents?
Dr. Sheely: I think the journey is hard and I also think the energy and discipline are hard as well. When you have a young child, that young child is so dependent on you for everything that it’s kind of easy to slip in there all of the growth-promoting things that you want to do with that child. But as the child matures and as the relationship gets more complex and complicated, then getting in that kind of daily time with the child and keeping focused on the objectives that you need to focus on becomes extremely difficult because we forget sometimes that teenagers are teenagers. And it’s very different to do something with a teenager than it is to do it with an infant or a very young child.
Kat Lee: It is, and I have to say, one of the things I can be really guilty of in life is liking efficiency.
Dr. Sheely: Is what?
Kat Lee: Being efficient. I like to get things done promptly and smoothly. That can be a real obstacle because we have to give our children time to become independent and we have to be okay with the process of independence. So along with just the discipline and the weariness of the time, I also think we have to realize we have to give those opportunities and they cannot always feel so efficient to us.
Dr. Sheely: And I think they, one of the things that we say in RDI and we kind of laugh and say it’s our mantra is we slow down to speed up, right? So I think sometimes when we think about slowing down, we think about I’m going to slow down today, instead of I need to have a new lifestyle. I don’t need to have a new lifestyle, and everything I do, I know there are things and times when I’m going to rush. But with this child, I want to make sure that I’m working on the development of the child’s mind and that the skills I’m putting in place are the skills that are leading toward independence. So that mantra that we have can work against us because of course, we slow down to speed up, but we don’t slow down to speed up tomorrow.
Kat Lee: I love this topic of obstacles to independence because once I started thinking about it, they just kind of start spilling out. So that difficulty slowing down to speed up I think is one. I also think, when you were talking I was thinking, but you know in order to see your child as independent, you have to have high expectations. So I think that can be an obstacle too, don’t you?
Dr. Sheely: I think it can be an obstacle, particularly if we expect that what we’re doing is going to result in something very specific overnight. So the obstacle becomes one of, I’m tired, I can’t do this anymore. The child is resisting and maybe what happened was we just got off track and we haven’t been doing enough assessments so we don’t really know where our child is and we’re jumping in there and doing activities, and we’re trying to put bandaids on something that still requires surgery and ongoing vitamins, all that stuff that keeps us moving. So I think it’s really important that we pace ourselves. It’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint. We have to keep pacing ourselves and we have to keep focused on not only the end goal but how are we getting there? Because if we look back, we can say, wow, we’re really doing much better than we were six months ago. We’re this much closer to independence. But if we don’t take the time to do that, we’re going to try to rush through activities and look at product over process.
Kat Lee: I do think too that people can become, I don’t want to say complacent, I don’t really think that’s the right word, but kind of this is our normal. For me that says we haven’t set any new goals. So we may have accomplished goals that we’re quite pleased with, but then we didn’t set new goals for the future. I think in some sense that can be a poison to independence. It’s almost like a… You stopped growing I guess is what I’m saying.
Dr. Sheely: We stopped growing and our children stop growing if they don’t get involved in the goals that are being set for them. If we are the people who set the goals and they’re not part of that process, then we’re going to see the resistance. We’re going to see that what we believe is going to help them, they don’t believe it. So it gets very muddled, both in the mind of the teenager, who’s getting closer to independence, and the parent, who may think, I love him the way he is. Not checking to see, does he love himself the way he is? Is he comfortable with what he’s achieved or are there things that he still wants to achieve and work on? That gets confusing too because of course we love our children and we love them the way they are. But we also are very responsible as parents to be thinking about are we giving our children what they want for themselves? I have yet to meet someone on the spectrum who doesn’t want friends, doesn’t want to be married, doesn’t want to have a job. All of those things that you and I want as well.
Kat Lee: I think those are such beautiful words. And I think as I was thinking about in our talk today about all of the dreams for parents, I think that one of the things is that nobody says those are their children’s dreams. I think in some ways they’re discouraged by various people in their lives from even thinking that way about their children. And yet as I hear you say, of course, their children are longing for relationships. It just makes so much sense.
Dr. Sheely: I work with a number of college-age students and they all want the very same thing other college-age students want. But the difference is that they realize where they’re stuck. And to be honest with you, I think most college students are stuck whether they have the diagnosis or don’t have the diagnosis. But the difference in the college students I’m working with, the difference is that they are resilient and they keep going back and they keep trying. So somebody says to them, “I don’t have a job.” They don’t say, “Ah, no jobs out there. This is a tough market.” They go knock on the next door. And they keep knocking on the next door until the next door opens. One of the things that have been said to me is every rejection is one step closer toward acceptance. Because they understand that rejection is a reality when it comes to job seeking, things like that. The kids that we work with, the RDI young people, are resilient and they keep trying.
Kat Lee: So before we go, I’m thinking about resilience and I’m thinking about where that starts, and I can almost feel a parent thinking it just seems so big to me. One of the topics I think you’ve talked about so much is just noticeable differences. I find that that applies to independence too. Just noticeable difference in independence. A tiny difference in your young child. They pick up the sock. Maybe they can’t put it on their foot, but they actually pick the sock up themselves, leads to all these other things. The journey is so long, I think it’s hard to realize how those just noticeable differences lead to all we’re talking about today.
Dr. Sheely: They do lead to it and they lead to it in a really wonderful way. Because there’s a repair that’s happening as those just noticeable differences get into place. We see children who are not growth-seeking, what we know about autism, is its status maintaining, not growth seeking. So when we start introducing just noticeable differences and the child who doesn’t really like change sees the difference and feels very competent, that child is now motivated to take on his own learning, and competence, as we know, is the best motivator. It’s like, I can do this. And I want more.
Dr. Sheely: So all of those things that we do which seem so simple and like an everyday experience for us, once we begin to do them, become huge in the growth of our children. And a just noticeable difference is one of those things, as is finding the edge and pushing that edge to keep our children growing. So I agree with you.
Kat Lee: And that growth does lead to independence. It’s an amazing process.
Dr. Sheely: Yeah, it is. And it’s a good thing to think about for the new year. I think it is a new year’s resolution and probably things to say to ourselves, never give up. Keep going. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. In the words of Bob the Builder, can we do it? Yes, we can.
Kat Lee: Those are words for year-round.
Dr. Sheely: They’re year-round words.
Kat Lee: Thanks for joining us for ASD, A New Perspective. A podcast show where we help you understand the mind of your child, and we always encourage you that growth for your child is possible. I’m Kat Lee. See you next time.