Strengths-Focused Parenting: Empowering Kids on the Autism Spectrum

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for people to focus (consciously or unconsciously) on the weaknesses of a youngster with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism (HFA). This is a frequent occurrence for the youngster with poor social and communication skills, odd mannerisms, and learning disabilities. This is especially true of  kids with unacceptable behavior related to their disorder.

Kids with Aspergers and HFA already feel they are different. It is up to us to teach all kids that “different” is not “bad,” and that each of us has special strengths. We can help that process along by showcasing each youngster's special strengths and interests.

How to employ “strengths-focused” parenting:

1. When choosing the right school for your youngster, visit several schools (if possible) and look for signs of success. Meet teachers and staff, visit classrooms, and talk with the students to find out if this is the right school for your youngster's challenges. Discover whether the school's attitude about helping “special needs” kids learn matches yours.

2. Be creative in looking for solutions to your youngster's needs. Supplement school learning with dynamic resources, hands-on learning, and field trips to interesting places.

3. Be success-minded. With hard work, proper resources, and solid teamwork between moms and dads and teachers who care, most kids on the autism spectrum can succeed.

4. Become involved in your youngster's school, even if you only attend parent-teacher conferences to discuss his progress. Even the smallest effort during parent-teacher communication can send a positive message to your youngster's teacher and to your youngster, helping to promote positive self-esteem.

5. Don’t be afraid to seek out help. We are fortunate to live in a society where there are organizations, clinics and private practitioners that provide beneficial services for “special needs” kids. Early intervention can make a great deal of difference in helping a youngster and setting the stage for future success. Professionals say that in early years, there is a “window” of time to help a youngster with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism. This is true, but it is important to know that help, even later on can make a big difference in your youngster’s skill, behavior and emotional development.

6. No matter the diagnosis, when we help kids focus on their positive qualities, they are happier, feel better about themselves, and become more successful overall. All kids thrive with positive feedback, unconditional love and encouragement. Kids with Aspergers and HFA especially need positive responses and interactions with moms and dads, because it is often one of the most motivating factors. When kids with different abilities feel encouraged and motivated, they are more likely to take on new challenges and learn new skills.

7. A diagnosis is often useful. It can help your son or daughter get the services that he/she needs, the best educational programs, and the correct insurance coverage. It can also help moms and dads and people around the youngster to better understand his/her way of interacting and processing information in the world. Beyond these factors, though, it is important to look past a youngster’s diagnosis and focus on the person. Highlight the child's personal strengths. When these kids know that you see them for who they are beyond their disorder, challenges that come with any diagnosis don’t seem as overwhelming – and strengths can flourish.

8. Moms and dads of kids with Aspergers and HFA are some of the most dedicated, resilient and awe-inspiring parents out there. Parenting a child on the spectrum often takes 3 times the time and energy as a neurotypical son or daughter, and the parents that manage this extra load the best take time to take care of themselves. If you give, give, give and don’t leave any time for yourself, you begin to run on empty. When your personal energy is tapped-out, you have to work harder and might feel depressed, resentful, or irritable towards your child. Although it may seem selfish at first, it is important to do things that bring you joy outside of parenting. You then have more positive energy and deeper well of internal happiness and love to give back to your youngster. When you take care of yourself, you are really taking care of your child too, because you are giving him the best in you.

9. Use your youngster’s interests to build other strengths. Help her channel this energy into deepening her learning skills in other areas. For example, if a youngster’s interest is in trains, use this topic to study other subjects. For example:
  • to develop social skills, pretend you are two trains learning how to share
  • in spelling and writing, use words and stories that involve train activities
  • in art, create pictures of trains
  • for math, count trains

By building on the youngster’s chosen interest, he will be more excited to learn new skills. By accepting your youngster’s interest, he feels more supported by you.

10. Have you child learn as much as he can about famous people who have Aspergers and Autism.

11. One mom tried the following:  "I play a made up version of scruples for my boys called "What should you if..." to new social rules. I recently started adding a new game called "I am special because..." we take turns naming why someone else is special or different and have to guess who we are describing. The boys love it and it's funny, heartwarming, and incredibly touching sometimes to hear their descriptions. I always tell my guys (both on the spectrum) if everyone was "perfect" and all thought the same we would all be bored all the time. I love it when they tell their friends the same thing."

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