How Presuming Competence About Your Autistic Child Can Be A Game Changer

A young mother approached me recently.
I asked her to tell me a little about her child.


She shared, ‘when I ask her to get something or give something to somebody, sometimes she gets it and sometimes she doesn’t.’


‘Also, if she wants something, she takes my hand and points to it. She can’t tell me what she wants.’


‘Sometimes she responds to her name. But most of the time, she just runs around. We got a hearing test done, but that was fine.’


She’s getting better, but I don’t know if she understands.’


This is what I felt 27- 28 years ago when Mohit was diagnosed.
I’m sure many of you have had the exact same experience.


‘My child doesn’t understand’ usually begins at this stage. We start harbouring doubts in our hearts.
During assessments, many children don’t perform (this could be due to newness of environment and tester). IQ scores often show up as lower than they actually are.


As your child goes to school, there are complaints from teachers. Your child doesn’t play like other kids. Learns differently, may not perform at grade level.


Another nail in the coffin of ‘my child doesn’t’ understand’.


As time goes by, you buy into this belief that your child doesn’t understand and has low intelligence. It’s painful.


I know because I believed the same of my son, Mohit.
I believed he didn’t get it. I believed those awful IQ scores pronounced by a person who knew nothing about him. This person interacted with him for a few minutes and came up with that score?


It took me another decade to change my thought process.
There were many things I didn’t understand then. But I know now.


Thankfully, it doesn’t have to take you that long figure out your child’s capabilities.


Let’s go to the people who’ve been there and don’t that- Autistic individuals themselves.



What would they like to tell us?


Sometimes it is the people no one can imagine anything of who do the things no one can imagine.


– Alan Turing, creator of the first computer used to break codes during WW II.


Impressive, isn’t it?


The eminent Dr Stephen Shore says:


Vibrant waves of sequenced patterns emerged in my head whenever I looked at musical notes and scores. Like pieces of a mysterious puzzle solved, it was natural for me to see music and its many facets as pictures in my head. It never occurred to me that others couldn’t see what I saw.”


– Dr. Stephen Shore


So, what does it mean to presume competence?


To presume competence means you should assume a person with a disability, like Autism has the capacity to think, to learn and to understand- even if you can’t see any tangible evidence to prove it.
– Ayo Jones via www.NoodleNook.Net


You have a choice. Ask yourself, ‘Will I presume competence or incompetence?


By now, I hope I’ve convinced you to take the direction of presuming competence.


Here are a few recommended steps for you to follow.


1. Have high expectations of your child


Believe your child gets it. Speak to your child like she understands. She is taking in everything you say.


Yes, expect your child to have a good life. Having an autistic child doesn’t mean you have to let go of your expectations for him/her.


Besides, you are a role model for your child.


The way we look at our children and their limitations is precisely the way they will feel about themselves. We set the examples, and they learn by taking our cue from us.


– Amalia Starr


2. Expose, don’t restrict


Expose your child to different situations.
Mostly they like sticking to the same routine- it’s our job to give them rich, varied experiences.


If it is difficult for your child, take it one step ahead at a time.


For example: If your child does not like to visit different places, start with a couple of favorites and add one new place to visit every week.


Expose your child to different books, varied activities, strategic online games.
Build it slowly and steadily.


3. Challenge your child


Do this in small doses at home. Let your child take the responsibility of problem solving.


If you’re making tea and you run out of tea powder, what does your child do?
If you wake up in the morning and you’re out of tooth paste, what does your child do?


Don’t jump in to help them. Let them think about what they need to do.
Expect your child to do well.


Work on literacy and academic skills too.
At SAI we work on experience based learning and encoding.


4. Focus on your child’s achievements


Once she’s successful- her achievements will make you feel she is more competent.
You will start believing and trusting her.


It all begins with you. Your expectation in your child’s ability (or inability) becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.




I’m not trying to paint an unrealistic, glossy pictures.
Yes, there will be difficulties.
But that’s precisely the time to stand up – for yourself and your child.


I’m also not speaking from a pedestal but as a mother who struggled with her own child (still struggles sometimes) but decided to implement all the above recommendations that I’ve given you.


I’ve encouraged all the families I work with to do the same.
And we’ve seen spectacular results.


Prasad recently went out of town with his family. This is what his father, Mr Ranganathan reported:


Tried to defy the rules of the land. Had been a tough year for all of us and surely for Pras who was confined to the four walls of the house since March 2020. It has been nearly 15 months that we had gone for an outing. So decided to make a trip to Amritsar, Dharamshala and Manali on a 10 day trip, with Pooja, Arun & Pras. (Pooja and Arun are Prasad’s sister and brother in law)


Temperature sub-zero at Manali. Thoroughly welcomed the first snow of the season. Pras very happy to sledge down the snows. Very tolerant to the extreme climate and was one among us and one among all the visitors. Went to Bir, the second highest paragliding point in the world. Waited in open for nearly 3 hours before the winds gave their consent. Pras went all alone and I was extremely anxious, if he would do it. Understand we were sailing on a parachute about 4 km up in the sky and Prasad seemed to enjoy every single moment and did as if he was a pro. As Pooja says, he is well behaved with “external people”.


The visit to Golden temple at Amritsar was nothing less than a full blown pilgrimage. The visit at night was awesome sight. A very different set-up the next morning. Langar was an enriching feeling. Pras was there throughout demonstrating his patience at all times. Little trouble with his food, sleep timings, extreme climate and extended travel. Social distancing, mask and sanitizing rules all complied with meticulously.





This beautiful experience warmed my heart.


Over to you. What are you going to do?


Are you going to believe in your child’s potential, against all odds?


It’s not my challenge to you… It’s their challenge to you.


The most interesting people you’ll find are ones that don’t fit into your average cardboard box. They’ll make what they need, they’ll make their own boxes.


Dr Temple Grandin


Stop thinking about normal . . . You don’t have a big enough imagination for what your child can become


Johnny Seitz, autistic tightrope artists in the movie, Loving Lamposts


Feel free to reach to us at, for more information.


Kamini Lakhani

Kamini Lakhani is the founder and director of SAI Connections. She has been providing services in the field of autism for more than 25 years and is the authorized director of Professional Training for RDI in India and the Middle East. She is also the mother of a young adult with autism.


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