“No pain, no gain.” “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” You’ve heard the cliches; they pervade our culture. As Americans, we tend to believe that working harder is the key to success in every area.
Without consciously choosing to do so, you may have brought that driven attitude into the process of teaching your child with autism. You probably did so with the best of intentions. Since you know that early intervention is crucial, you’re determined to do as much as you can to help your child to progress.
As a loving parent, you’re willing to go the extra mile to support your child’s development. Despite your busy schedule, you’ve been fitting life skills lessons into your daily routine. Even so, you feel guilty. You wonder, Am I doing enough? What am I missing? Could she be making more progress? Could he do more independently?
Moreover, the skills training hasn’t been going so well. While your child has made some gains, the net result has been frustration and discouragement for you both. You’re tempted to buckle down and work twice as hard, though you sense that that would put a serious strain your family.
But what if simply trying harder isn’t the answer? What if the best way to create and sustain a skills learning program isn’t to race forward, but instead to take one small, deliberate step at a time?
We believe that you can create an easy autism plan that facilitates skill development. Here’s how to start:
Step One: Get the full picture and then make a plan
Having read this far, you might feel ready to dive into action right now. Perhaps you’re fired up and galvanized to teach your child. That’s wonderful!
However, the first step is to zoom out and analyze the bigger picture. This will inform your plan going forward. At the end of the day, an easy autism plan is a comprehensive, well-thought-out one.
Why do we advise taking the time to plan? Because we’ve seen what happens when well-intentioned parents jam dozens of disconnected instructional periods into their home routines. It’s an exercise in frustration for everyone involved.
If you’ve already tried this, then you know the feeling. It’s as though you’re spinning your wheels, expending a great deal of effort without actually getting anywhere. You’re trying to teach your child to make eye contact or greet other people, and it’s just not happening.
Most likely, this will cause you to give up … not because you don’t care about your child, but because you can’t see progress. No good parent wants to upset their child needlessly!
What you need isn’t more willpower or effort, but a step-by-step game plan for teaching your child vital life skills. If you’re going to put in the time it takes to train your child to tie her own shoes or dress himself, you want to ensure that learning happens.
At this stage, it’s helpful to work from an individualized assessment from an autism professional. For example, an ABA clinician can help you to develop a cohesive plan for your child.
But if you don’t have access to one-on-one therapy support, don’t worry. You can use FirstPath Autism’s video library as a curriculum. If you’re uncertain as to where to begin, our series of evidence-based, effective lessons offers an easy autism plan.
Step Two: Identify and prioritize foundational skill sets
Once you’ve taken the time to evaluate your child’s current level of functioning, it’s time to hone in on specific skill gaps. You’ve looked at the bigger picture, and now it’s time to zoom in and go small-scale.
For example, say that you want your child to have a full conversation with you, rather than simply offering one-word answers to your questions. That’s a wonderful objective, but it may be putting the cart before the horse. Look at where your child is right now, and assess what foundational skills he’ll need in order to build up to those bigger goals.
If he cannot identify emotions or make some eye contact at present, he might very well have a hard time with the nuances involved in a back-and-forth dialogue. However, if he masters a few key social skills, he’ll likely find conversation easier to handle.
Perhaps you’ve already tried to engage your child in an ongoing conversation, only to feel disheartened by his seeming unwillingness to participate. Maybe you’re starting to doubt that your dream of having a sustained interaction could ever come true.
But what if the problem isn’t a lack of capability, but a lack of core skills? What if you’re assuming the existence of essential social abilities rather than actively teaching them?
As we wrote in our blog post, The most important social skill to practice with your child with autism:
“Since you may not remember learning basic social skills yourself, you may take them for granted. And if you are a person for whom socialization comes easily and intuitively, it’s probably a challenge to see your child struggle.
To prevent frustration, think of social skills as similar to other life skills in that they take time and practice to master. After all, you wouldn’t expect your child to be able to tie their own shoelaces after just one demonstration, would you?”
Do you recognize yourself in that description? If so, don’t stress. It’s very common for parents to skip over the necessary basic skills in their desire for their children to arrive at a certain level of competence.
As FirstPath’s founder, Romina Kiryakous says in our introductory video, “The Treatment”:
“Oftentimes, people are not teaching the prerequisites to a skill, so they are hopping around or they’re just going to different domains, and then the child has splintered skills.”
This holds true with both tactile and social skills. Just as a child cannot dress herself independently if she cannot fasten any buttons, zippers, or snaps, a child cannot express herself autonomously if she cannot identify her own emotions, ask appropriate questions, or modulate the volume of her voice.
Step Three: Seek out support
Lastly, don’t go it alone. As you identify the skills you need to practice with your child, invest in resources and support. Know that you are not the first parent to walk this path, and that you can rely on the knowledge and experience of those who have gone before you.
Look to professional ABA clinicians with decades of experience in working with children with autism, and know that social skills can be taught!
As renowned author, professor, and self-advocate Temple Grandin phrased it, “Social thinking skills must be directly taught to children and adults with ASD. Doing so opens doors of social understandings in all areas of life.”