The One Thing Your Autistic Child Needs. And It’s Not More Therapy
I met and interacted with two precocious 5 year olds last week.
Atharv was a delight to watch.
Self assured and bubbly, he knew he had an audience while he bounced his ball.
From bouncing, he moved to catching the ball in different styles.
He didn’t need much to entertain himself. He tried different permutations and combinations for bouncing and catching. And each time he succeeded, he glanced at me, as I stood watching him from the staircase landing. A slight smile or nod did it and he continued to challenge himself.
Jasvinder (RDI Consultant, SAI Connections) stood there watching him too.
For us, typical development is a miracle. I asked, “What do you see?”
“I see how he’s built a pattern and I notice his eye gaze is awesome.” She replied.
“Yes, and look at how he challenges himself. Watch the resilience too.” I commented.
The other 5 year old, Ananya, was equally bright and alert.
Except that she did the opposite of what Atharv did.
She retreated into her shell instead of reaching out. She did not challenge herself in any way. When she felt overwhelmed she showed it by crying and walking out of a situation. We had to give her some time to settle down. After she settled, we could engage with her.
Atharv is typically developing, whereas Ananya is on the autism spectrum.
But just citing autism is not reason enough for the difference in development.
Could we delve deeper into this?
It’s not about the speech or intelligence.
Ananya speaks a few words. And she’s very aware of her surroundings.
For Atharv, the growth seeking mechanism has been switched on.
For Ananya, it hasn’t.
This is a beautiful illustration from Dr. Steve Gutstein, RDI Connect.
Growth seeking gets activated naturally in typically developing kids but not kids with autism.
Do children like Ananya have a fair chance to become growth seeking?
Yes, most certainly.
The answer lies in building a back and forth solid, emotional connection with the parents first.
Your child does not need more therapy. Your child needs to connect with you.
1. Invest in your emotions
We’ve forgotten to look at our children. Yes, they may not look at us, but we don’t look at them either.
I’ve seen this in almost every initial assessment.
It starts with the child not looking at the parent. How long can the parent maintain the interaction? So the parent starts focusing on the activity to prompt the child to get it right.
Interaction gives way to activity focus.
Get your focus back to the interaction.
Slow down and smile at your child.
2. Slow down
The key is to slow down.
Take away the excessive words. Stop the barrage and instructions.
Become a co participant and do simple activities with your child.
Remember to pause. It’s the biggest gift you can give your child.
3. Use experience sharing language
When you talk to your child, share something instead of questioning your child.
Use lots of facial expressions and broadband communication.
Share what you’re thinking or comment on something.
This enables your child to share freely with you, rather than feeling pressurized to answer your questions.
4. Start with simple activities at home
Make a list of simple activities you can do at home.
Make it about the process of doing something together.
We try very hard to prove to ourselves that our kids can ‘do’ things.
Let go of that feeling. Relax. Know your child is smart. You don’t have to test it all the time.
Focus on co participation to begin with.
5. Make your child feel competent
Make it simple enough for your child.
Add complexity one step at a time.
Your child will not even know she’s being challenged.
Spotlight the interaction with shared smiles and laughter.
Nothing works better than the feeling of competence for developing intrinsic motivation.
Watch this beautiful video illustrating all the above mentioned points. Watch how Dipali (RDI Consultant in Training, SAI Connections) interacts with the little girl.
Switch on the growth seeking mechanism in your autistic child, Dear Friend.
Your child will become resilient, like little Atharv.
She will be able to take challenges in her stride.
Building that beautiful connection with your child is the core.
Once it’s in place, your child will blossom with his language and communication too.
You will understand why your child does what she does.
A beautiful bond will be built between you and her.
Above all, your child will trust you.
She will not feel alone any longer. She will seek you out and not retreat into her shell.
Once her relationship with you is solid. Other relationships including friendships will take off.
Isn’t it what you want?
By the way, the little girl in the clip is Ananya.
She’s taken off beautifully already.
She has a bright future ahead.
I’m confident that language and skills will follow naturally and with little help.
And Ananya will shine just as the bright star she already is.
“Don’t think that there’s a different, better child ‘hiding’ behind the autism. This is your child. Love the child in front of you. Encourage his strengths, celebrate his quirks, and improve his weaknesses, the way you would with any child. You may have to work harder on some of this, but that’s the goal.”