My son wouldn’t take a cure for autism if there was one – as he puts it without his autism he’d be a much less interesting version of himself without his particular set of strengths and weaknesses.
When you first hear that someone has autism do you think about what they can’t do or do you wonder what they can do?
Do the weaknesses associated with autism spring to mind first before you consider their potential strengths?
If you think about what a checklist for autism is like you’d probably be correct in imagining a long list of deficits.
I remember the one we looked at all those years ago when we were wondering whether our son, Edward, might be on the autistic spectrum.
It had things like this:
- Limited ability to make friends
- Poor eye contact
- Rigid thinking
- Inflexible to change
- Poor emotional regulation
- Literal interpretation of language
and so the list went on with one deficit swiftly followed by another.
We discovered that we could tick pretty much all those negative pesky little boxes.
It was sobering.
Worrying in fact.
It made us feel incredibly apprehensive about his future.
However I recently saw a checklist for autism symptoms on social media which was produced by The University of Leeds and it put a massive smile on my face.
Once again my son ticked the majority of the boxes but it was very different from any checklist for autism that I’d seen before.
The reason he ticked so many of the boxes is because he has an amazingly wired autistic brain.
Here’s the list and how Edward fared against it.
Attention to Detail – ( if he’s interested in and has chosen to do the activity)
Deep focus – (as above)
Observational Skills –
Absorb and Retain Facts – (Who needs Wikipedia when you live with someone like Edward?)
Visual Skills – not so much
Expertise – (Developing – I can certainly imagine that one day Edward will be sought out for his expertise in a specific field, I just don’t know what that field will be yet.)
Methodical Approach – (if it’s a logic type puzzle but not so much if it’s a more practical challenge like how to tidy your bedroom!)
Novel Approach – (those of you who witnessed Edward’s triumph in a licorice string eating competition will certainly agree his novel approach paid off well for his team. He was once commended for his ability to think outside the box although he later told me that he had no idea where the box was!)
Creativity – not so much if we are talking about art, music and drama.
Tenacity and Resilience – (He doesn’t give up if he’s got his mind set on something.)
Accepting of Difference – (He talks to everyone in the same way regardless of gender, age or position. He hates discrimination and once solo protested against arbitrary gender segregation at school.)
Integrity – (However you may get more honesty than you bargained for.)
If you are the parent of an autistic child the chances are that there are at least a couple of items on this list where your child out performs you hands down or at least they probably will do as they get older and more capable.
I recently read a book called “Time to Think” by Nancy Cline who writes about the importance of providing exceptional listening to facilitate great thinking. In order to think well people need to know that they are valued and appreciated by the person who is listening to them. Nancy claims that people need a 5 to 1 ratio of genuine appreciative comments to critical comments in order to have a chance of hearing and processing feedback on things they may need to change.
There’s a challenge!
It’s going well beyond the “Two stars and a wish” model of giving feedback that my kids picked up from primary school.
The book made me wonder about autistic kids.
Have they heard enough appreciation from us about the marvelous things they can do?
Do they know what they are good at?
Before we start focusing on areas which are more of a struggle for them have we set in place the best thinking conditions through providing a true appreciation of their strengths?
Self esteem can be a huge issue for children who are different from the majority of their peers. As parents and teachers we need to think carefully about building self-esteem and resilience in these atypical children of ours.
Could genuine appreciation and recognition of their strengths be a good starting point?
What do you think? I’d love to hear your ideas.
I’ve linked this post to Spectrum Sunday