(PCM) As the mother of a ten-year-old son with autism, I confess that I am overprotective. I definitely have the tendency to be too overly helpful, and look the other way when my son doesn’t always deliver, in an effort to always make his life journey just a little easier. But in fact, I am not preparing him to grow up and lead an independent and productive life.
On a recent autumn day Temple Grandin told me, if we don’t give our loved ones “a gentle and loving push” they will not reach their potential. She also asked me to spread the word to other caregivers of those children and adults with autism and other special needs. This advice is helpful for children with autism, but it is really sound practice for all children – those with autism, as well as typical children.
In my hour-by-hour and day-by-day effort to keep my son’s frustration level low and maintain a smile on his adorable face, I sometimes choose to help him, fix his problems, give into his demands and let him coast when it comes to homework, household chores or other responsibilities.
But after spending a recent life-altering day at a suburban Baltimore conference sponsored by Future Horizons featuring Grandin, I am re-thinking my plan.
I have heard some of this advice from therapists, friends and my loving mother, but when Grandin,the world renowned autism advocate, educator and author, tells you perhaps youlisten a little more closely.
Grandin’s fear is that those children and teens we protect now will end up in their bedrooms and basements playing video games or with other electronics and never live up to their full potential, what ever that may be.
When asked how we as parents get over the tendency to coddle our children with special needs Grandin replied, “We’re going to have to get over it, or the kids not going to go anywhere in their lives.”
She urges parents to“let go” a little at a time, and let their children both succeed and fail, and continue to “stretch” these children and adults so that they may thrive. This stretching, loving push and future job skills and training, will allow our children to have more independence, self-esteem, confidence, and a better quality of life.
Many of these tips and suggestions are detailed in “The Loving Push: How Parents and Professionals Can Help Spectrum Kids Become Successful Adults,” (Future Horizons), an important guide written by Grandin and Debra Moore.
In her book, “The Loving Push,” Grandin includes eight family stories, plus chapters about how to get your loved one on the autism spectrum off the computer (iPad, TV, video games, DVD player or other electronics) and back to caring about their lives.It also has advice on building each of our child’s strengths, regardless of his or her ability level, and gets them on the path for a successful and meaningful life.
10 Tips I learned from Autism Advocate Temple Grandin:
- Wean children, teens and adults with autism off the video games and other electronics, down to one hour per day.
- Replace the time spent on electronics with home and community activities. Figure out what your loved one with special needs enjoys and follow those interests: music or art lessons, therapeutic horse back riding, cooking, fitness programs, swimming, church or synagogue programs etc. Heading outside for a walk or a bike ride – just getting out and exploring the world around them.
- Find “volunteer work or paid employment” for those individuals with autism. In the 1950s there were newspaper routes, so find the replacement. Require that your son or daughter help with dishes, laundry, getting ready for school, dog walking, yard work, and any other tasks or chores. The goal: to take responsibility and learn a genuine work ethic starting at a young age.
- Take your child shopping for a small item – a pen or a loaf of bread. Teach them how to interact with the store clerk and how to make change. Keep practicing these skills until they are mastered.
- Try new things. My son says no the first time I mention nearly everything, which makes it impossible for him to try anything new. But after months of suggesting drawing, painting and other crafts, he finally said yes. He now asks me to sit at the kitchen table and draw. I have proudly put his art work of trains, trucks and dinosaurs all over my kitchen. The bonus: during the time spent on drawing he is interacting with me or a friend and he is away from his iPad.
- Try involving your child in a community based activity like Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, 4H or other programs that will encourage social skills and keep him engaged. Find a troop or program that is known for its kindness to special needs and keep looking until you find one. One local karate program asked me and my son to leave after two lessons saying we weren’t the best fit; the second program we went to embraced us with open arms.
- Play board games to help your child with turn taking and other social skills. Some of the old favorites take time and will keep your child engaged. This is also a good way to help the child learn patience.
- Help them discover their passion – that early interest that could help him or her with a future job or career. Once you find that passion, nurture it. Who cares if your house is filled with rocks, modeling clay, dinosaurs or science books. It doesn’t matter if it is music, animals, art, or computers – it very well could lead to a future skill, and with the right job training and encouragement ensure your teen or adult has a bright and employed future.
- Use positive reinforcement – it leads to positive results. Give your child choices instead of constantly barking: “No,” “Don’t do that,” or “Stop.” Pick two preferred activities and say, “Do you want to draw today or go to the park?”
- Stretch the child or adult with autism and other special needs a little more each time and pull back the protective parental instincts a little more. It will be healthier for both of you, and lead to positive results for the entire family.
For more information about Temple Grandin and “The Loving Push,” please go to: www.FHAutism.com or call: 1-800-489-0727.
To follow Debra andAdam’s adventures with dinosaurs and more go to Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/1wallacemediaservices/
For Suburban Philadelphia programs, events and life skills opportunities go to the Autism Cares Foundation, www.autismcaresfoundation.org. Or call 215-942-2273.