In my first article in the series Treating Autism, I discussed mindset, and how believing autism can be treated was critical. Understanding and believing autism can be treated is the beginning step. The second part of the series will discuss attitude and motivation, and how both are essential in the treatment process.
Your Child Is More Perceptive Than You Think
It is often assumed people with autism are unfocused and not aware of their environment. I have heard terms like, “spaced out,” “in their heads,” and my favorite, “not much going on up there,” to describe people with autism. This is a complete lie, as people with autism are aware of their environments, more so than most neurotypical people.
Most autistics are hypersensitive to their environments. Overstimulation via their environment is a critical problem most have trouble coping with. Someone who has autism will hear someone talking to them and will understand them, but at the same time, they hear many sounds competing for their attention. Do I listen to your voice or the constant sound of the refrigerator? They will note sounds but have a hard time responding if instructed.
To gain the attention of someone who has autism, you need something that motivates them. This will not be hard to determine, as often autistic people obsess over subjects, some others find strange. Attitude and Motivation go hand in hand. For example, if your autistic child likes trains, then this will be a real motivator when working with your child. You could create games involving trains to help teach skills. This will improve the attitude of the child, and of you as you will begin to notice progress.
The Motivation Principle
Motivation is something we all understand. Everything we do is based on it. Did you go to work today? If so, why did you go? Was it for the chance to be productive, to interact with your coworkers, or to get a paycheck? Any of these is a motivator. We eat, so we do not feel the pain of hunger. While we know we need to eat to survive, hunger motivates us to eat, to avoid future pain. Your child is no different. Your child has to want to learn, want to communicate and interact, want to become more independent. The problem is how to get your child motivated to do these things?
First, a positive attitude is critical on the part of the parent. You have to believe your child can succeed. You cannot have doubts about the success of your child. In your mind, you have to visualize your child completing the tasks you set out. If you do not have this attitude, you will stumble when your child fails. Your child will fail the first time, first ten times, maybe even the first 50. You cannot give up and stop trying. If your child refuses to make eye contact, you cannot give up after one attempt. You may need to work on eye contact for months before they look you in the eye. Your child has to have the motivation to look you in the eye. Don’t worry; an entire article will cover eye contact.
Remember, you are the agent of change for your child. You are the link to the world. Your attitude will determine if this link is strong or shaky. If you become upset often and show this to your child, your child will pick up on it. Remember, your child is perceptive and can understand emotions. Autistic people understand and experience emotions, however often have a hard time verbalizing them. If you are upset, your child will notice. Be careful of what you say, and how you say it.
The Power of Belief
Belief is a critical part of treating your child’s autism. Professionals for a long time have discouraged hope as something unrealistic and even dangerous. Your beliefs about your child and the progress your child will make will shape your interactions with them. If you feel your child will succeed, you will be more positive, and your voice and body language will match. If you feel there is little hope for your child, your communications will reflect this.
This does not mean you have to be perfect with your child. You will make mistakes, and have bad days. This is a normal part of treatment. The key difference is you learn from the bad days, and work to reduce them. If a game or activity did not work, this is not a failure. It only means it did not work that day. Moods change daily for anyone, especially for someone with autism. Giving up on an activity because of one failure will be the failure. Keep trying, and work to develop other activities.
Make Your Attitude Contagious
Most likely you are not the only human contact for your child. Others need to adopt a similar attitude when interacting with your child. Everyone who spends regular time with your child needs to be on the same page. If you are a mother of an autistic child, have the father do the same. If grandparents are involved, have them do the same. The more your child can learn to trust others, the easier and shorter this process will be. Your attitude needs to be taught to others, so they learn how to best communicate with your child.
To summarize, your attitude is critical to your child’s success. If you project a positive, hopeful attitude, your child will notice, and be more interactive. In working with your child, motivation is necessary. Make a list of things your child likes, and make a game out of them. In these games, you can begin to teach skills to your child. A combination of attitude and motivation is a good beginning step in teaching your child how to better function in the world. Our next article will deal with repetitive actions, and how joining into your child’s world is critical to your child’s success.
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