“Everybody is a genius.
But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”
~ Albert Einstein
This month, let's talk a little bit about what can be a rather sensitive topic..
"What goals do I have for my child diagnosed with autism?"
As parents, there is no doubt in the world that you want the absolute best for your child with special needs. In fact, there may be no one else who knows what's best for your child aside from you. However, with this unconditional love, protective instinct and an all-rounded desire for your child to have the best life possible, there could also be some factors left for you to consider when deciding on a path for your child.
Very commonly, parents set goals and paths for their children with autism based on what they believe is right and good. There is no harm in this at all, of course. But something very worthy of serious deliberation, is asking yourself-
"Am I setting my child up for success?"
You see sometimes, there can be a vast difference in what you as a parent believe is right and good as a direction, and what actually may better equip your child for overall successful daily-life functioning. Let me give you a common example. A right of passage for typically-developing children is to go to play school, kindergarten, then primary and secondary school and they're off to college and/or university to prepare them for the real world. This is a yardstick, even for children with special needs, without a doubt. So how then do we set these kiddos up for success? Sometimes we need to chuck that yardstick out of the window, and get a brand new one!
Ask yourself- what is it that you truly want for your kids? Happiness? Success? Well-being? All of that is MORE than attainable, it may just look a bit different from where we are standing. Typically developing kids have happiness because they enjoy playing with their friends, they enjoy going to school, they enjoy the love they get from their parents. Kids with autism who aren't yet ready to be in school can also derive happiness from a comfortable private teaching environment being exposed to different types of activities, a lot of social attention, and yes even enjoy the love they are shown all around!
Typically developing kids who are good at their lessons in school are uplifted and encouraged by continual bursts of success. What about kids with autism who can't keep up in a classroom? They don't have to miss out on the experience of being good at things and being successful, it's a matter of what goals are set for them within their capabilities to be able to do so! Say a child is unable to follow or relate to an academic lesson or is not exactly on track with typically-developing peers learning the national syllabus, that doesn't mean all hope is lost! He/she can be systematically taught skills in other areas to excel in like art, or music, or even sports! These kids can be super successful in so many other areas if they're given the opportunities and exposure.
Sometimes, we do have to recommend that a child not be placed in a mainstream school at all, at least in the near future, because he/she simply does not have the prerequisite skills. There is nothing to be ashamed of if your child with autism is not part of the mainstream system, it just means he/she could be learning other things that may supplement in other ways. For example, we commonly advise parents on where their child may be at compared to typically-developing children of the same age. This only means that we like to focus in on what skills may be lacking, what essential skills need to be taught in order to improve their lives and aid in 'closing the gap' between them and their typically-developing peers. Once those skills are identified, the child is already headed towards a better path.
For example, if a 6 year-old with autism is not on par with his typically-developing peer, we can identify that he may have limited motor skills that can hinder a lot of play, he may have limited speech that can hinder social skills and communication, and so on. We would recommend that he spends some time with us so we can build these essential skills up to properly equip him for more mainstream-type activities, if not a totally mainstream school setting. Keep in mind, there are a ton of play groups, homeschooling centres and other classes for a child with more limited capabilities.
Some parents set the goal of their child with autism going to school because they want their child to make friends. This goal can be attainable in more controlled and predictable settings first, like in some of our 1-on-1 play setups here at the centre, especially if the child is more withdrawn in nature and/or is lacking the appropriate social skills to make friends. From there, we can build up the child's play repertoire to simulate more typical social play. In cases like these, it can unfortunately do more harm than good to place a child who is not yet ready in a complicated setting like a mainstream school. Why? A special needs child placed in a mainstream environment before he/she is ready can unfortunately be a target for bullying. This is something really important to consider as parents, when considering the goals you want to set for your special needs child.
"But why can't we aim high? Why can't we want what other kids have for our kids?"
You most definitely can. Here's the catch- consider IF they are capable at the time. Also consider speaking to professionals (like us!) who can guide you if you're unsure. In no way is it wrong to want a typical childhood and life for your child with autism, but we have to always make sure expectations are set in accordance with the child's current capabilities, and with the right support and treatment, to build the capabilities up from there and onward. It's all about weighing the options based on whether or not your child will truly be able to not just cope, but thrive on a path you put him/her on.
Look beyond what we as a society think is right and good for kids, and look...
.. REALLY look..
.. at what's special about yours! :)
If you're reading this and need some advice on setting goals, feel free to give us a call!
We will be having an Open Month at our centre from the 4th of November to the 20th of December, providing slots for Free Parent Consultations.
Hope to see you there!