Every family needs rules. No rules equals chaos and confusion. Two things that don’t endear to a child with autism. Children with autism thrive on rules and schedules. We only have one hard and fast rule here in Autismland. All of the others are fluid and flexible. This gives them the ability to adapt based on each child’s developmental level. Want to know what that one non negotiable rule is in our house?
WE WILL TREAT EVERYONE IN OUR HOUSE WITH RESPECT AT ALL TIMES!
Matthew 22: 37-40 (NIV)
37Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'[b] 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'[c] 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
While I have been blessed with children who get along very well with each other as well as enjoy playing together, there are still times when respect is in short supply. This holds true for Michael and I as well in our marriage. It is an incredibly important character trait that is in limited supply in our world right now. Now don’t get me wrong here. We are still their parents but we parent them with respect and honor. Our expectations of our children don’t change either simply because one child has autism. I took the same approach to teach this to both children.
However,this can be a difficult concept for a child with autism. I would certainly not have dreamed of attempting it in the early years of RDI. We did this when Logan was finishing up Stage 4 in RDI. This means that we have filled in the developmental gaps and he can pretty much do what a typical 4 almost 5 yr old can do. I would expect this out of Madison at this age so it was really not a stretch to expect it out of Logan. Be prepared to model, scaffold, and spotlight ALOT .
By modeling it , I show both children how to successfully do it in any situation. When you have a child with autism, the old adage “do what I say and not what I do ” goes out the window. Children with autism are so concrete in their thinking that it would not make sense to them to say that. Therefore, I must walk the walk if I am going to talk the talk. I have to show respect to them and others if they are going to learn it. This does not mean that I am not still in control. God made me a steward of these children and He tells me in
Proverbs 22:6 (NIV)
“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”
Just as God disciplines me when I sin and turn from Him, I must teach and discipline when they get it wrong too. But I can do it with love and respect.Not everything has to be a teaching session though. You self talk out loud when modeling . You know the thoughts running through your head when you move through the day or encounter a situation? Those thoughts need to be spoken out loud so that your child can hear the thinking process as well as how it works. Seriously, children with autism need this modeled for them especially for abstract concepts. You will think it’s crazy but it is a crucial step. Don’t skip it.
Scaffolding and spotlighting go hand in hand. By scaffolding, I take a situation and break it down into manageable steps so that the child ( with or without autism) will be successful. This makes him feel more competent thus increasing his self confidence and creating a positive episodic memory. This will then make it much more likely that he will try it on his own and want to get better at it. As his competence increases, you add more steps to the scaffold until he can do it successfully on his own without your guidance.
Spotlighting is simply slowing the exchange way down, scaffolding as needed, then stamping it on his memory that he was successful. This can be done with a high five, a thumbs up, or quite simply a smile. Logan has become quite adept at referencing us and responds well to non verbal praise. This has been quite refreshing to experience. You don’t want to praise incessantly or frivolously. Just when I absolutely want him to remember it. Praise becomes meaningless when doled out unnecessarily. This is true for all children not just ones with autism.
Scaffolding is breaking down the interaction into as small steps as necessary to make it successful for the child. You take what you want the child to accomplish then work it out to be absolute sure that is the end result. If you want to make pudding with your child as a task to work on master/apprentice relationship but your child can’t focus for more than 5 minutes then you have everything ready to go. All the ingredients are measured out and set out on the table. Mixing bowl, spoon and ramekins are ready to go. You might have the child help pour all the ingredients in , mix it then dole it out to one bowl. High five with an exaggerated thanks then let the child go. You want them to leave happy as well as feeling successful. You would gradually increase the time of the interaction until the child can stay for the whole project.
No matter what happens in the family , it is always done with love and respect. Yes, we need to be diligent in our care of our children. By letting them be disrespectful, mean children they turn into disrespectful, mean adults. Even children with autism can be taught how to treat others with kindness and respect. By treating them with kindness and respect, you model the appropriate behavior for them. Don’t underestimate their abilities based on their diagnosis.