Q: What’s the most important thing your child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) could learn?
A: That interacting with people is fun and worth putting a lot of effort into.
The greatest challenge for most children with autism spectrum disorder is relating to other people. Some children with ASD don’t look at or connect with other people very often. Other children with ASD connect more frequently but can be inflexible and rigid within the interaction. If you can help a child with autism spectrum disorder to interact more often and to be more flexible within the interaction then you are helping a child to overcome a central challenge of ASD.
So how do you inspire your child with ASD to connect more?
1. Let your child know that social connection is important to you.
Your child is already paying attention and interacting with you some of the time – whether that is by looking at you, taking you by the hand or communicating with you with vocalizations or words. Celebrate your child’s social connection and let him know that you value it more than anything else.
2. Be more responsive to your child’s wishes.
Follow your child’s motivations when he is ready to interact. If he likes to play physical games then offer physical games. If he likes when you read particular storybooks then read those storybooks. This will inspire your child to want to connect with you more often and for longer periods of time. List a few of your child’s favorite interactive activities and be prepared to offer them when your child want’s to play.
Being responsive to your child’s wishes also means being more respectful of when she doesn’t want to interact with you. Back off if your child is ignoring you or absorbed in her own activity. If you put pressure on your child to interact when she is not ready to play it makes you less motivating to connect with. Instead of insisting on interaction, try giving your child some space and imitate what your child is doing on her own. This not only demonstrates your acceptance of your child’s autistic behavior but it also shows your interest in your child’s unique way of engaging with the world.
3. Set aside time to be playful and have fun with your child.
As a parent or professional there are times where your agenda can get in the way of you having fun and being playful. You might be so focused on your role as a caregiver or in trying to teach your child something that you become serious or overly insistent. Some parents describe how often they feel like they have to take on the role of the policeman or policewoman in order to manage their child’s behavior. While it can be useful to have boundaries that are in the best interest of your child, if your child’s frequent experience of you is that you are difficult and often trying to get them to do things they are not interested in then they will be less inspired to connect and interact. That is why it is vital to set aside time where your overriding focus is to be playful and fun with your child. By doing so you will find that you are enjoying your child more and that your child is enjoying you more also! And you can ask yourself – wouldn’t you feel more inspired to connect with someone who makes time for you, who enjoys you and is fun to be with?