Raising a Child/Teen with ASD:Ten Solid Gold To Dos
10 To-Dos if Your Child Has Autism
If you are the parent of a child with autism, you’ve probably invested hundreds of hours and dollars learning how to prompt your child’s behavior. But after years of honing your prompting and scripting skills, do you believe your child can navigate relationships without following prompts and scripts?
Does he understand how others think or does she just know how to follow directions? If you’re not satisfied with your child’s capacity for friendship, the last thing you need is to trot out the same prompt-and-script methods. Instead, you need to change the way you relate to your child.
The following 10 To-Dos if Your Child Has Autism were developed by Christopher Mulligan, LCSW, Clinical Director of Groupworks West, and inspired by Relationship Development Intervention.
1)Play with your child without a particular end in mind. Outcome-oriented play is organized around an end product, such as building a Star Wars Lego set, and keeps your child from relating to his play partner. You want to help him focus on the process of play. Assignment: Devote one hour per week to three process-oriented activities (swimming, biking, gardening). After two weeks, ask yourself: What was it like to spend time together without a destination?
2)Play with your child—without the use of high-interest objects. High-interest objects distract your child from her play partner. You don’t want your child to remember the Lego set; you want him to remember the person who helped him build the Lego set. Assignment: Engage in simple play with your child. Make a treasure box. Build a fort with pillows and blankets. Play dodge ball. Take a hike. Limit your speech. Don’t comment or ask questions. Give your child a reason to look at you, to gauge your reactions to events. You don’t want your child focusing on your words—you want her to focus on the emotional experience of playing with you.
3)Increase your use of emotion-sharing language. This type of communication focuses on sharing emotional experiences, not information. For example: “I like red more than blue;” “I’m bored with this video game;” “I really want a double cheeseburger!” Assignment: Try going through a weekend using only emotion-sharing language. If you find this difficult, STOP talking! Take a break for an hour and try again.
4)Decrease the use of instrumental communication. Instrumental communication involves relating information and giving directions: “Look at me;” “Say thank you;” “Make eye contact.” Although instrumental communication has value, it does not help kids make friends. Meaningful communication establishes mental “bridges” that allow us to share our experiences: what makes us laugh, what bores us, what books we like to read. Assignment: In a two-hour period three times per week, do not give a direction or prompt a specific behavior. Ask yourself: Did I talk less? Decrease directions? What was the effect on my child?
5)Modify your home environment by simplifying the visual field. Children with ASD--and many without--have difficulty acknowledging the preferences of their play partner. If your home is filled with high-interest objects, your child will not focus on his peer’s interests, no matter how often you prompt for attention. Assignment: Remove high-interest objects that pull your child’s attention away from her play partner.
6)Increase your non-verbal communication. This means facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice, body posture. Assignment: Block out periods in which you communicate non-verbally. If you shake your head “no” to your child’s question, don’t proceed to the next topic until she acknowledges that you said no. Don’t reinforce non-communicative speech: monologues, tangents, repetitive phrases. If you start broadcasting on non-verbal channels, your child will learn to look at you to get information.
7)Limit access to electronic equipment. Excessive use of video games, handheld devices, cell phones and TV can cripple social-emotional development for all kids. Don’t be fooled: internet research isn’t research and internet gaming communities aren’t social—they only increase isolation. Assignment: Limit electronic activity to one hour per day. Let your child be bored. Suggest activities that get you both out of the house. When your child is on the internet, watch out for sites that encourage repetitive thinking: eBay, YouTube, online stores, game and movie “research.”
8)Arrange two community outings per week with a peer. Your child will give reasons why he isn’t available: “I’m tired from the week;” “We don’t like any of the same stuff;” “I only like to see kids at school.” Don’t take no for an answer! Assignment: Make a Peer Outing Plan. Help your child choose a peer and make phone contact in advance—do not expect her to pick up the phone without your help! Select an activity that breaks ASD patterns: stroll through Chinatown, hike in Griffith Park, play in the tide pools at Leo Carillo, race pinewood derby cars in the backyard.
9)Re-charge your batteries. Are you making time for self-care or are you in “autism mode” 24/7? Assignment: List 5 activities you can do each week that support your physical and mental health and make time for each activity.
10)Recharge your marriage. List 5 activities you can do each week that support the quality of your marriage or partnership. Assignment: Create a mission preview or short narrative that describes how you want your marriage to change and grow. Use the mission preview as a guide/map.
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