The Importance of Being Curious About our Children’s Experience

“One of the guiding principles we teach in The Son-Rise Program® is for the parent or caregiver to ‘Seek to Understand’ their child on the Autism Spectrum. Having the intention to become more curious about the experience and behaviors of our children (and adults) on the spectrum, has been a game-changer for many parents and has ultimately helped them to support their children in new and revolutionary ways. Seeking to understand is a skill that is massively overlooked, both in traditional therapies and in society in general. However… we can make such a meaningful impact in the lives of those on the spectrum by seeking to understand our children.

“Here are some awesome reasons why seeking to understand your child is useful (and essential) to both of you:
1) “We Make Our World of Interaction and Relationships More Appealing – Our children have a challenge connecting and relating to people, so we want to give them as many reasons as possible to be able to move toward human interaction. When we become curious about our children’s experiences (their world), instead of trying to get them to conform to our world, we strengthen the bond we have with them. Educating ourselves about our children’s learning styles, motivations, and preferences is a loving and respectful action we can take to build trust. The more trust we build and the more trusting our children become, of us, the more we can support their experience and future development.
2) “We Can Support Our Children’s Sensory Processing Systems – When we understand more about what our children’s experience is, we can often make necessary accommodations to change their environment into a more helpful and easier to navigate environment. A less-distracting environment, where our children have maximum control is much more digestible and conducive to their learning and growth. Removing sensory overload and other stressors allows our children to reach “healing mode” more easily.
3) “We Encourage Openness, Sharing and Communication of Inner Experiences – Specifically for our Highly Verbal teens and adults, we want them to be able to access the easiest path to being able to express themselves. When we become curious and seek to understand, it gives our children a safe, loving platform from which to share, encouraging them to reveal more about what is going on for them.

“So how can we become more curious and seek to understand our children?
• “By letting go of judgments about their behavior – our children are doing the best they can to navigate the world and make sense of the way things work. We will be able to notice much more clearly what they are experiencing if we are first, accepting and non-judgmental. Being non-judgmental is a simple and effective way to become more comfortable and present with our kids. The more comfortable and present we are, the more likely we are to notice details of what could be going on.
• “By becoming brilliant detectives of our children – Reflecting on what was happening before, during, and especially what happened after, any behaviors we see is the key here. We can ask ourselves – what was the ‘pay-off’ or ‘result’ that my child got from doing this behavior? This requires us to sincerely put ourselves inside their shoes… what could they be getting out of this experience?
• “By asking loving, curious questions of our Highly Verbal Children – Take the extra step to ask our children questions such as ‘What were you thinking when that happened?’ or ‘Why did you yell when your Sister came in the room.’ With this practice of being curious and asking these loving questions, make sure you PAUSE and leave some extra processing time for them to be able to answer you.

“Here are a couple of real-life scenarios where our children might do some seemingly ‘random’ behavior and how, we have become curious and sought to understand what was happening to our children.

1) “My child puts her hand in her diaper, plays with her poop, and smears it on the walls. I first remove any judgment about what is happening, believing she is doing the best she can and is not doing anything that doesn’t work for her in some way. I then seek to understand what she could be getting out of this. What happens after she smears poop? I realize that each time she does this she gets a bath, even if it’s not usually our regular bath time. One of her biggest loves is water and being in the bathtub – In conclusion: She has found a brilliant way to get an extra bath when she would not ordinarily have got one during that time.
2) “My 9-year-old son who has some clear words, but can’t yet fully express himself, shouts and hits himself each time we all go to visit our neighbor’s house. I first remove any judgments about his behavior – he is doing the best he can and his behavior is telling me something. Then I investigate… the ‘pay-off’ is that when he shouts and hits himself, we end up leaving my neighbor’s house and quickly return home. I also remember, my neighbor had scented candles and their dog was barking in the other room. This must have been too over-stimulating for my child and he was trying to let me know.
3) “My Highly Verbal teenager spends hours walking around his bedroom, talking to himself about weather patterns, instead of interacting with the rest of the family. I first remove any judgments. I embrace this behavior and trust he is doing the best he can. Then I seek to understand by asking curious, loving questions. For example: ‘What do you like about walking around and talking about weather patterns?’ His answer is ‘It calms me down after a stressful day at school.’ WONDERFUL! He told me about what was going on for him, where I might have ordinarily assumed he is being anti-social and doesn’t like being with my family members.

“What a gift it is to be able to become more curious and seek to understand our children so that we can better understand the ever-increasing world of Neurodiversity and practice compassion and understanding.”

Written by Becky Damgaard, Senior Son-Rise Program Teacher

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