How You Can Start Working On Your Child’s Future Happiness And Independence Today
Sometimes your words come back to haunt you.
12 years ago, I conducted a 12 week course for parents who wanted to learn about teaching skills and language to their autistic children.
During one session, I remember saying, “Break everything into small steps and teach one skill after another.”
How long will it take to teach so many skills? Asked a parent.
“It can take years. But I’m ready to teach my son forever. What about you?”
I spoke from a place of passion- not reality.
How long can you keep teaching your child? You’re growing older and s/he’s growing bigger and stronger.
That’s the hard reality.
Also, the underlying message is, I will keep teaching my child forever, because he won’t be able to learn independently- ever.
How wrong I was.
Coming back to the present.
I often ask parents what they want for their child.
They reply. “ I want him to be happy.”
What does that mean? How do you define happiness?
Happiness means enjoying a good quality life. It’s defined by the following:
1. Independent living (as much as possible)
2. Enjoying enriching friendships and relationships.
3. Holding down a job or engaging in meaningful employment.
These will lead to your child’s happiness, and yours, Dear Parent.
Measure each activity against the touchstone of the above 3 parameters.
Will it help him to live independently? Will it help with relationships? Will it help him acquire and maintain a job in the future?
I learned the hard way. I went down the route of teaching inconsequential skills.
My RDI Consultant, Joyce Albu was horrified when I shared Mohit’s goals and objectives with her.
Her words ring in my ears, even today.
“Kamini why do you want to teach him shades of color when there are so many other important factors to work on? Mohit needs to develop a sense of self. He needs to understand his impact on others. He needs to think for himself.”
I was hurt and upset then. I appreciate her wise counsel today.
I had spent years on building Mohit’s skills and abilities. But I had missed something so fundamental to existence.
If we want independence, we have to let our children think for themselves.
Unless we do that, we will not be able to achieve the quality of life as explained above.
And till then, happiness will elude us.
So how do we work on ‘thinking.’
1. Do not prompt.
Mistakes are good for them. I repeat, mistakes are good.
All over the world, mothers give their little children shaper sorters and puzzles to figure out on their own, but we prompt our kids. We don’t let them make a mistake.
Resilience is a byproduct of making mistakes, reflecting on them and trying again.
2. Don’t bombard your child with instructions
Dr. Gutstein talks about the 80:20 ratio.
Of the words you use, only 20% should be instructional.
You can comment, share your thought process. But reduce instructions.
3. Focus on the process- not on a perfect product
For example: Let your child know you’re cooking a potato sabzi.
Don’t go down the instruction route.
DO NOT say,
“Take the potato.” “Peel it.” “Now cut it.”
“Cut it smaller.” “That piece is too big.”
What happens if you don’t say anything?
Does your child start peeling by himself? Does he transition to cutting?
Give your child the opportunity to think for himself. Don’t rob him of his thinking ability.
The sky won’t collapse if your potato sabzi is cooked with slightly bigger, not perfectly cut pieces.
Your child’s thinking is more important than the perfection of the dish.
4. Work on open ended frameworks
After my students are able to regulate themselves, I work with them on open ended frameworks. I might leave some vegetables around and ask them to proceed.
For example- if I leave potatoes and tomatoes out there, some of them chop them to cook French fries, while another may chop the tomatoes and potatoes to make sabzi.
Open ended activities help them make decisions.
Making these minute decisions, minute by minute enhances neural connectivity.
5. Give them time
Time is the biggest gift you can give your child.
Time to think, time to make mistakes.
I often ask mothers what they feel when they give their children time.
Most report feeling anxious. “Why is he taking so much time? He knows how to do this.”
Many of them say they feel shocked, that without an instruction their child takes so much time.
I remember doing an assessment with a teenager.
He just would not proceed without a direct instruction from me.
His mother was horrified to see this.
The anxiety felt thick enough to be cut with a knife.
You know that feeling too. You feel it in the pit of your stomach.
You know what? It’s alright to be uncomfortable.
Ask yourself a simple question.
‘How long will I be around? How long will I keep correcting my child?’
Learn to be okay with discomfort.
Then Let Go.
I’d like to leave you with a thought from Dr Gutstein of RDI Connect.
A parent once asked him about her child. She told him the child had poor motor skills and could not engage in too many activities. She was stuck for activity ideas because of his poor fine motor skills.
Dr Gutstein listened thoughtfully and then he said, “I understand, but what has that got to do with thinking?”
Every child can think. Provided you give them an opportunity.
Human beings occupy a prime position amongst living beings because of their thinking abilities.
Autistic individuals can shine in their brilliance once you jumpstart this ability for them.
Start today, dear friend. Your time on Earth is limited.
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