Living in our dynamic, fast changing world can be extremely stressful — even for those who are processing information at a normal rate. Imagine moving to another country where you know only a limited amount of the language that the nationals speak. It could be overwhelming! Now imagine trying to keep up the same lifestyle you now have in that country. Without the support of a trusted guide, we’d all fail! What a different experience that would be if you were given more guidance, such as learning about the culture and foundational words in their language before you go; or going with somebody that is familiar with that country!
As a parent, being the guide to your children is an extremely important role; and when you have a child with autism, the stress of this job is amplified all the more. The pace of our world is very fast, and much too fast for a child with autism to process all that is necessary to function successfully. Below is the acronym SUCCESS, which offers 7 simple things you can do to begin a successful guided relationship with your child.
Support: Give as much support as your child needs in order to be successful. If it means holding his/her hand to walk a spoon from the table to the sink to make sure that s/he is able to do this, then do it! Another way to show support is to demonstrate what you want done so s/he’s not trying to guess what it is you want him/her to do.
Uninterrupted: Find a space that is quiet and not full of distractions such as computers, books, toys, or siblings. Offering a quiet space for just the two of you will help him/her focus on what is important – the relationship between you, and not the activity you are doing. This also means staying quiet yourself! Try doing activities while using as few words as possible!
Control: Stay in control of the materials you are using. If you are trying to play a game with all the materials to the game in front of him/her, s/he will most likely be more distracted by the game or instructions than learning how to do it.
Challenge: Once a child is clearly feeling competent, step up your expectations a bit. For that instance: If your child is helping you to make a dinner you’ve made together often, pretend that you don’t know how to turn on the stove or that you can’t find the wooden spoon. Give him/her a chance to think about how to solve these problems. Stay quiet and wait patiently to see what s/he does. Step in with some support by demonstrating how s/he might work through this problem if s/he is clearly unable to accomplish this challenge.
Encourage: Using sounds like “Wow!” or “ohhhh” while working together can slowly build those feelings of competence.
Simplify: If your child is showing signs of stress (silliness, aggression, attempts to control, running off, etc.), find a way to simplify the activity. For instance; If you are throwing a ball back and forth and he is unable to catch it, get closer and hand him/her the ball instead of throwing it. You might be surprised by what happens when you try this. Often times it feels too simple, and that’s ok; remember that we are building confidence, the challenge of actually catching the ball can come later.
Short: Don’t expect your child to stick with you for too long, especially if s/he shows a lot of resistance to participating in activities with you. Giving him/her little opportunities in which you know s/he’ll be successful is a great way to lay a foundation for keeping him/her with you longer in the future. Maybe it means that s/he picks up the last block that was on the floor, or dumps the spaghetti noodles into the water. Remember that there will always be another chance to make the activity longer and more complicated as his/her confidence builds.