HELP FOR PARENTS OF CHILDREN WITH ASPERGER'S & HIGH-FUNCTIONING AUTISM

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Aspergers Children and Poor Self-Esteem

Question

Can children with aspergers/asd seem to become worse as they get older? At the ages from 2 to 6, my daughter was very hyperactive. As the years have gone on, she seems more withdrawn, quieter, and far more emotional. She is also becoming less and less sociable with other children that are her age.


Answer

Young people with Aspergers have a much harder time with their self-esteem. They often perceive the constant correction of their behaviors and their social interactions as criticism. The frequent visits to doctors, or speech therapists, or OTs, the testing and the stream of interventions that we try with them can easily leave them feeling like they're under the microscope, a specimen that warrants investigation, a person who needs fixing.

Expressive and comprehensive communication can also have a direct impact on a youngster's self-esteem. These are areas that do not come easily to young people or adults with Aspergers. Understanding subtle jokes and participating in human interplay, actions natural to their neuro-typical peers, further increase their feelings of 'not fitting in' and erode their self-esteem.

Combine all this with the expectations of siblings and the all-too-frequent bullying interactions from many peers and it's easy to understand how devastated a youngster with an Aspergers spectrum disorder can feel.

What can we do? It's critical for us, as family members, educators, and professionals to learn strategies and techniques! In our not-too-distant past, institutional placement was the standard intervention for people with Aspergers. While that is not the case today, we still encounter lack of understanding and appreciation for the unique qualities of the person with ASD. Everyone, especially these visual learners, need a constant reminder of how special they truly are. We must find ways to give them their own Teddy Bear (or dinosaur!) so they will feel "L.C.B." on their own.

But how do we really build their self-esteem? It starts with us examining our own ideas of how we view young people with Aspergers. We must believe in their value ourselves before we can ever change their minds. These kids know when we're faking our compliments or arbitrarily handing out encouragement because the therapy book says we should give 5 positive comments to each correction. It involves empathy, walking in their shoes, rather than sympathy; no one wants to be felt sorry for. Each youngster is a gift, with his or her own special qualities. We just need to look for these special gifts, tune into the youngster with our hearts, and bring their essence out.

Knowledge is power and nowhere is it more powerful than in helping people better understand what it's like to have Aspergers. Explain Aspergers to everyone involved with the youngster. This will increase their empathy and provide opportunities for genuine praise and encouragement. Explain Aspergers to the youngster, too, when he is able to understand his disability. Who are we really kidding, other than ourselves, when we pretend a youngster does not have the Aspergers label or we try to camouflage it? Who are we hurting? It's the youngster with Aspergers who is hurt in the long run.

Go to conferences, read books, research and share information that takes into consideration the many sensory, social, behavioral and communication challenges faced by the youngster at his/her functioning level. Armed with this understanding of how the disability affects the youngster, you and others can better find ways to help him or her fit in.

Remember to teach extended family, educators, other moms & dads and professionals all you can to help integration and provide a deeper understanding when trying to teach particular skills. Be intuitive when advocating for young people and persistent in your approach, though not abrasive. Having a positive mental attitude, especially when advocating, helps others want to cooperate with us. After all, who wants to deal with anyone cranky?

Bridge the interactions between peers and the youngster with Aspergers. Visually and verbally interpret what you think they both are thinking and/or feeling based on your own experiences when you were their age, and your understanding of Aspergers.

By teaching others about Aspergers, more people will become aware of this invisible disability. When people understand empathetically, they will more naturally accept the youngster with Aspergers, as he is. This is often effective in reducing or eliminating bullying from peers, too.

Learn to correct behaviors by sandwiching the correction in the middle of positive feedback. For example, "Sammy, you are doing a great job cleaning your room. If you pick up the clothes over there it would look even neater. Boy, you sure are a good listener."

Young people with Aspergers often times have an incredible sense of humor. I have to stop myself from laughing so my own son doesn't feel like I'm laughing "at" him, causing him to feel inadequate. Sometimes I'll even say "I'm not laughing at you, Jonny, I'm laughing with you."

Stress the positives! Look for the good in every youngster, even if you don't see it at first. Pretending to be Pollyanna can only help, but make sure you're genuine in what you say. Stress the good effort your youngster is making, if he hasn't yet achieved a goal. Show your confidence in his abilities by telling him that you believe he can succeed. Saying things like this that may not be 100% true initially will contribute to your youngster's trust and belief in himself, raising his self-esteem and encouraging self-motivation to continue trying.

Model a mental attitude of "things are great". Express yourself in the positive, rather than the negative. Kids with Aspergers are masters at copying what others say, so make sure they're hearing things that are good for them to copy! When we say, "you are great!" to a youngster often enough, he, too, will believe it and feel valued for who he truly is.

Encourage young people to share their thoughts and feelings; this is so important and often sheds new light on existing situations. My son, Jonathan was temporarily removed from the bus after cutting the seat. At first we thought he was acting out, so we had him write an apology to his bus driver. When we read his letter, we discovered that he was being bullied by another student on the bus and that it had been going on for quite some time. We intervened appropriately. The other youngster was reprimanded and Jonny was taught appropriate methods of expressing his anger in the future.

Like most people, kids with Aspergers feel better about themselves when they're balanced physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Since they are often very picky eaters and gravitate towards junk food, it's important to try supplementing their diet. Also, provide regular physical activity, when possible, to relieve stress and clear their mind. Set the stage for success by acknowledging their achievements - however small - and reminding them of their past accomplishments. Keep their life manageable and doable, refraining from overwhelming them with so many activities that they become too challenged physically and mentally to succeed at anything. Provide choices to them frequently so they understand they have a say in their own lives and even let them be in charge sometimes. These are all great ways to build self-esteem!

Don't overlook giving them opportunities to connect with their spiritual side through religious avenues or by communing with nature. This can help them feel purposeful, that their lives have meaning and connected with their source.

A strategy that helped raise Jonathan's self-esteem, especially in overcoming his victim thoughts and feelings, was spiritual affirmations. Using affirmations took some time, but we found that it brought calm and peace to Jonathan and our family.

Dr. Jerry Jampolsky, author of Love is Letting Go Of Fear and founder of the Center for Attitudinal Healing, offers many principles I find helpful in teaching us to love ourselves, thereby enhancing self-esteem, both in ourselves and then with others. Some of his principles include:

-The essence of our being is love
-Health is inner peace Live in the now
-Become love finders rather than fault finders
-Learn to love others and ourselves by forgiving rather than judging
-We can choose to be peaceful inside regardless of what's going on outside
-We're all students and teachers to each other.

Part of Jerry's message is that by focusing on life as a whole, rather than in fragments, we can see what is truly important. His concepts, when embraced, positively affect how a youngster with Aspergers thinks and feels about him or herself. Anger, resentment, judgment and similar feelings are all forms of fear. Since love and fear cannot co-exist, letting go of fear allows love to be the dominant feeling.

Look for the Miracles Daily, there are miracles and good things happening all around us. Learn intimately the challenges that young people with Aspergers face in their everyday lives. Be on their team by tuning into who they truly are - unique expressions of divine light. Empower them to be themselves, perfectly okay with who and how they are. Do this by loving them for who they are now, today, not who you think they should become, after ABA, or speech therapy or learning 'appropriate' social skills. Consider that young people and adults with Aspergers are wonderful beings here to teach us empathy, compassion, understanding and most importantly, how to love. Most importantly, do whatever it takes to include them in life rather than merely integrate their presence.

In genuine star sapphires there are tiny imperfections and inclusions that reflect light perfectly to form a star in the stone. Each youngster with Aspergers is like this precious gem, unique in every way. Without the tiny inclusions, there would be no star. It is our job as moms & dads, educators and professionals to "bring out the stars" in all of our special young people by shining the light on their natural beauty. In so doing, we see their different abilities rather than their disabilities. And, then they will see them, too.

The Parenting Aspergers Resource Guide: A Complete
Resource Guide For Parents Who Have Children Diagnosed
With Aspergers Syndrome.

1 comment:

robcota said...

What did "L.C.B." mean in this article about self awareness with children with autism and aspergers? You have several people stumped! Thanks!

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