Your Highness #2 will be 12 in a couple of months, it is hard to believe. It seems like it was yesterday when I held him in my arms when he was born. But now, as he says he is a “big boy” and is already showing signs of puberty.
It is hard to explain how that feels, it is definitely a bittersweet (And sometimes emotional) experience particularly because he does not really fully comprehend what those physical changes entitle and that’s hard to witness as a parent … so his mind and body are maturing every day but at a different pace.
When we realised that out of our 3 boys he was the one that was on the moderate/low side of the spectrum (Mainly his communication), we started teaching him to become as independent as possible. He is able to do a lot of things on his own such as:
1. Bathe by himself.
2. Brushes his own teeth.
3. Makes his own bed.
4. Fold clothes.
5. Sets the table for lunch and supper.
6. Clears out the table afterwards.
7. Helps his younger brother to open bottles.
8. Cleans the table.
9. Packs groceries.
10. Carries groceries.
These things did not happen overnight. It has been the product of years of work and his willingness to “help” because he is “big”. Over the holidays, he will learn how to do simple tasks such as toast his own bread for breakfast, vacuum, etc.
If you’re raising a child on the moderate/low end of the spectrum, I have some tips I would like to share with you (From my own experience) that can help your son/daughter to become as independent as possible regardless of their ability to speak.
START AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE
We all know the importance of intervention for children on the Autism spectrum, younger they are better the outcome will be. However, I don’t want you to feel despondent if you did not start early or your child might be a teenager now or even an adult. It is NEVER too late to start!
First, it is extremely important to understand that just because your child might not have speech or his/her speech might be very limited does not mean they cannot understand what you’re saying. Therefore, always treat your child with the respect and dignity they deserve.
This means having a conversation with your son/daughter every day just like you are conversing with any other person in your family: looking at their eyes, telling them about your day, asking them about theirs, letting them know they are LOVED, IMPORTANT AND WORTHY to you.
Often times, some parents leave their non-verbal children very much alone in a corner without engaging them at all because they don’t know how to communicate with them or think their child does not understand.
Even if your child might not be able to reply verbally at your questions, it does not mean they don’t understand or they won’t enjoy your company and love. It is less about what you say, and more about how you are making them feel.
TEACH THEM TO DO CHORES
As I mentioned before, it is important to understand that it will not happen overnight; hence it is crucial to start working on those goals TODAY. Focus on one specific task at that time and work on it every day. Start slowly, if the task is to clean the table, go through the entire process in full detail. Have your child beside you while placing his/her hand next to yours and very slowly make all the motions to clean the table. Repeat it every day until you start seeing that your child is ready to try it on his/her own. It might take a long time or a short time, it all depends on your child but regardless of how long it might take, do NOT give up. Repetition is key and very helpful.
You can use the same approach to most things such as setting the table or even for personal hygiene such as brushing their teeth. Emphasis must be placed on ensuring you teach one task at the time, do not start teaching another until the one you’re practicing with your child is mastered.
Remember to be kind and patient. The chore will most likely not be “perfect” but that’s okay. The learning lesson here is for your child to become as independent as possible and can develop a sense of self-fulfillment. Praise initiative and willingness. Keep in mind that a person develops their self-image by doing things on their own opposite of having someone else doing it for them. Each case is unique, so you’re the best person to decide what and how your child will accomplish a task. Do not compare children or situations.
LET THEM CHOOSE
Giving them the opportunity to make simple choices helps them feel included and provides them with a sense of purpose. We let our son choose the clothes he wants to wear (They are age-appropriate) and when going out, healthy options for lunch or dinner. These options are usually between two items so he does not get overwhelmed. It makes him feel proud of himself, that he is accomplishing something important and most of all, that what he has to say matters.
RESPECT YOUR CHILD BY TALKING AGE-APPROPRIATE
Our middle King is treated like a regular 11 year old, meaning we do not talk to him like he is a baby (Baby-talk) because regardless of his struggles with communication we believe it is extremely important to treat your children with the dignity and respect they deserve. He is an 11 year old, not a toddler.
So yes we adjust our vocabulary (And sentence structure if necessary) to suit his communication challenges so he can understand better, but always keeping in mind that he KNOWS he is an almost 12 years old boy and wants to be treated as such everywhere he goes.
TAKE THEM OUT WITH YOU AND GIVE THEM SOME EXPOSURE
I think this is one of the most difficult things to do for Autism parents but particularly for those who have children who are on the lower end of the spectrum. They tend to have more frequent meltdowns due to their lack of verbal communication and they get frustrated very easily. Going out can be a real challenge. A lot of parents that I am in touch with choose to leave their young or adult child at home because they are afraid of the reaction their child might have thus becoming a very stressful experience.
I recall the days that our King #2 could not go to do grocery shopping or go out. He would get huge meltdowns everywhere we went. It was very hard (And that’s an understatement believe me). We could have chosen to leave the grocery and return another day (As we have done in a couple of occasions) but we realise the importance of having our son exposed to activities that are vital for independence one day. So we took him out at every opportunity we had knowing what we will face. It was indeed very stressful (I am not going to lie) but the constant exposure has been a tremendous help for him.
More exposure he received, more he was able to relate to the world around him, and develop a basic understanding of his place in this world.
Now at the age of almost 12, he can go anywhere with us without any meltdowns.
The only thing we all have to do as Autism parents is giving them that extra- gentle push which is vital for our children’s success. Often times, we might think our children “can’t” do X or Y (And we give up) without realizing that we are actually not providing them with the opportunities to grow.
Our children are indeed very much capable; it is just a matter of ensuring we are offering them those chances.
Where there is life, there is hope. Take it easy, your child is your gem and once you treat him/her as the precious jewel they already are, they will continue to shine.