Autism Parenting: Should We Do the Opposite of What Everyone’s Telling Us?
Article by: Raun K. Kaufman
Director of Global Education
Autism Treatment Center of America®
Facing the turmoil of an autism diagnosis, it’s totally understandable for us to feel pressured into using an approach with our children that doesn’t feel right to us. Most parents of children on the autism spectrum have been told that they have to rush around trying to stamp out their children’s repetitive “stims” – and push their children to do or learn other, more “appropriate” behaviors. But maybe you’re one of the many parents who feels that parenting this way is difficult, stressful, exhausting, and goes against your natural instinct to connect and bond with your child.You’re not alone. And you’re not wrong.
If you do the opposite of what everyone’s telling you to do, you could actually see significantly more progress with your child – and feel so much more connected to your child and to your own parental instincts. In fact, I wrote my book, Autism Breakthrough, specifically to enable parents to help their children grow and learn while going with instead of against their children, bonding more with their children rather than doing battle with them.
Getting our children to change their behaviors does not address our children’s autism. Why? Because autism is not a behavioral disorder; it is a social-relational disorder.
Our children certainly behave differently. There’s no doubt about that. But these behaviors are symptoms, and stamping out symptoms does nothing to help our children with their core challenge: connecting to, relating to, and communicating with other people.
Helping our children with their central deficit requires defying everyone else’s behavior-obsession and committing to one thing: creating a relationship – on your child’s terms, in your child’s world. Deep down inside, you know this. Your own parental instinct is probably screaming it. But it’s hard to hear it over the din of everyone else’s voices.
What if there were a specific way to translate your love and your instinct to connect with your child into concrete, results-producing action?
Next time your child “stims, ” join your child. Yep, that’s right. Everyone else says to stop, limit, or redirect these behaviors. You’re going to join in with them. If your child is stacking blocks, you stack your own pile of blocks. If your child is ripping paper into tiny strips, you do the same. If you child is repeating a line from a movie over and over, you repeat it, too. And if you have a child with Asperger syndrome who loves to talk about airplanes, then listen to what he or she says with baited breath; become an airplane fanatic! Some well-intentioned people who are used to focusing on behavior may tell you that joining will cause your child to “stim” more. It won’t.
Since autism is a social-relational disorder, we can’t help our children to overcome their significant social-relational challenges with an anti-social approach. Trying to stamp out our children’s behaviors breaks trust and alienates them. And this trust is your most important asset in helping your child to progress!
When you join your child in his or her “stim, ” you create a connection around a common interest. Joining is about creating a relationship, a trusting bond, a sweet rapport, based upon diving into your child’s world, loving what your child loves, exploring what your child is exploring, cherishing what your child cherishes.
Have you every wondered if your child can understand the deep love you feel for him or her? When you join, you are showing deep love for your child in a way that he or she can truly understand. You are saying (through action), “I love you. And because I love you, I love what you love.”
I’m speaking to you not as an academic or even solely as a professional (though I’ve been working with families for seventeen years). For me, this is very personal.
When I was a little boy, I was diagnosed with severe autism. I had no language, no eye contact, and a tested IQ below 30. I would spend my days engaging in repetitive behaviors such as flapping my hands in front of my face, rocking back and forth, and spinning objects such as plates on the floor. My parents were told that my condition was permanent and that I was destined to spend my life in an institution, where I would be fed, bathed, etc.
Seeing the dismal outcomes offered by conventional treatments, my parents pioneered a new approach: The Son-Rise Program®. After three-and-a-half years, I recovered completely, bearing no traces of my former condition, living a normal life, graduating from the Ivy League’s Brown University with a degree in Biomedical Ethics, and, now, spending my days involved in the most social of professions: working with families, teaching workshops, and lecturing worldwide.
It means so much to me that I get to work with our team of over 60 at the non-profit Autism Treatment Center of America® to show parents how to help their children in the same way that my parents helped me. I have seen first-hand how joining children in their own unique worlds results in these children engaging with us more and “stimming” less. Of course, there is a wide range of techniques we use in order to help our children learn new things and reach new heights. But it all begins with joining – and with the deep desire to bond and connect that parents just like you have unleashed.
RAUN K. KAUFMAN is the author of the new book, Autism Breakthrough, and the Director of Global Education for the Autism Treatment Center of America®, the worldwide training center for The Son-Rise Program®.