Autism comes with many challenges that we face every single day. We have to address these challenges and learn how to manage them, and we often have to “think outside the box” in our approaches. There is no “day off,” and it often can absorb and drain us.
It’s so much about autism – and the challenges and deficits that accompany it – that sometimes we miss out on the strengths and the abilities that our kids do have.
People with autism have abilities, and we need to look closely and see what their strengths are. Our kids may not necessarily verbalize that they are very good at something in particular. In some cases, they may not have been given an opportunity to demonstrate some of the skills and strengths that they have, simply because we may not know what they are.
As parents, we need to look closely at our children, try to figure out what their strengths may be, and then build on those skills. We should incorporate those strengths and skills into their learning environment, which will also help build their self-esteem.
My son Logan, who has autism, certainly has some very interesting strengths, which he demonstrated to us in his own way.
When Logan was only 4 years old, we realized that he was extremely fascinated with clocks. Every time he looked at an analog clock, he’d always find a digital clock and compare the two. We soon figured out that he was learning to tell time one minute at a time. Here we see a great strength, in that our 4-year-old son could tell time and had developed the concept of time, and he learned it in his own unique way. His typically developing twin sister learned to tell time several years later, along with her peers.
We took advantage of this skill and incorporated a clock schedule for Logan. He loved seeing a clock in front of each activity on his schedule, and he followed it beautifully, thanks to all those clocks.
A couple of years later, we noticed that our nonverbal son had a fascination with weather. He always wanted to watch The Weather Channel, and when our local news station displayed the weather, Logan was always right there, watching very closely and trying to mimic what the meteorologist was saying. This child was nonverbal but trying to say sentences. He only talked when it was about the weather, despite how hard we worked to encourage him to talk.
When he was 13, we arranged to take him on a tour of our local news station, WLOS, with his speech pathologist. We were ecstatic about the visit, as it turned into a news story, and Logan very willingly stood in the studio with a microphone attached to his hip and remote in hand, lights and big cameras surrounding him. He was “in the spotlight”! Logan became the weatherman. He was given some visual prompts as needed and was able to demonstrate his ability to talk, given the fact that this was a subject of “high interest” for Logan. To see the news report on Logan, Finding a Voice, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jk0co2JnTdg.
We use Logan’s interest in weather to help him learn. Every evening just before Logan goes to bed, our family meets in our living room to play a silly “bunny toss” game. I think only one who understands autism will be able to relate or understand this game, but it has merit. One of us tosses the bunny to another family member, and we say a weather-related word or short sentence as we toss the bunny. The person who catches the bunny then comes up with their weather word or sentence and tosses it along to the next person. We are now expanding this into state capitals and other state-related questions. Logan will Google on his iPhone to search for answers.
As a parent, it is very rewarding to study my child’s abilities. It is equally rewarding to see the impact it makes on his self-esteem when he can show us what he CAN do.
Juliette Heim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.