Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A Response to An Invitation to Share Advice to Parents of Newly Diagnosed Children

A Response to a LinkedIn Post, "“Fathers of older children with autism: What is one piece of advice you would give to fathers of newly diagnosed children?” Posted by Ezra Lockhart, MCSE, CT, AC 

Thank you Ezra Lockhart for extending your invitation to include Moms as well as Dads.

Ezra, the reason I decided to answer you from a post in my blog is simple. There is not enough space provided in LinkedIn. I realize you asked for one piece of advice, but there are so many thoughts and feelings that occurs when you first hear the words, "Your child is autistic." I simply could not narrow it down to one piece of advice. My apologies for my wordiness. I hope you don't mind that I created this post to share in your conversation.

1. Deal with your personal feelings about your child's diagnosis first.

2. Embrace your child know that they possess amazing qualities.

3. Focus on the whole child and not just the diagnosis.

4. Don't feel guilty for needing and wanting "me" time.

5. As you are figuring out which way to go with teachings and therapies for your child take time to think about what you need to occur to help maintain your sanity. In other words, if you need to say "time out" sometimes be sure to find ways to convey that message to your child. Create a dialog that they will become familiar with so they will no when you need a bit of a break. It may not always work, but it will work sometimes and even more as they become more familiar with the process.

6. Explanation, Expectation, and Exploration - These are what I call the 3 Exs. I use this method as a template for teaching my son anything and everything. As we are raising and teaching our autistic child(ren) we soon become aware of the differences in their learning process. Using the 3 Exs made teaching my son and transitioning him through changes smoother and more a pleasant experience.

Example 1: When teaching my son how to use a cup he saw that the cup was good for drinking but nothing else. I discovered early on that his pattern for learning was linear. So I decided to use pictures to show my son many different ways to use a cup (Explanation). The next time I showed him uses for a cup I asked him to point to pictures of different ways to use the cup. I gave him 3 choices all of which were correct answers. He chose 2, drinking and pouring (Expectation). Then I gave my son a cup and several manipulatives like rubber animals, rubber balls, blocks, fat pencil, play dough, etc. Holding up a picture and showing him hand over hand how to drink form the cup, pour from the cup, place different objects into the cup, taking objects out of the cup, using the cup as a mold or roller and tapping the cup on the sides and bottom (Exploration). Once this is done I worked with him on how to appropriately utilize his new knowledge. All of this took time. Several months to be exact, but he has a clear image of the many different ways he can use a cup. Not only does he apply this process to using a cup, but it is so engrained that he explores the uses of almost every objects he encounters. Sometimes it can be quite interesting to see what he comes up with.

Example 2: Using the 3 Ex method is also helpful when transitioning a child into change. It is very easy for an autistic child to get locked into routine. On one hand this is good, but on the other hand it could lead to great difficulty when change has to occur like transitioning from school to staying at home or engaging in other activities during summer months and holiday breaks. Using story boards and picture cards are a great way to give visual and verbal explanations about events that will soon take place. It helps also to create a picture calendar showing the child a countdown of days to a particular event. As you are counting down to the event developing much needed expectation also slowly incorporate a small selection of activities that your child enjoys to do once the transition occurs. Allow/assist the child to place the picture cards of different activities on days that they would like to do the activity once school is over.

Whether you realize it or not you are providing a global education to the child. You are teaching them the days of the week, how to count, colors, expectation, positive anticipation and exploration of the possibilities to come. Not only have you provided cognitive stimulation you have provided what your child needs to move out of one norm into a new norm. The same process works well as you transition them back into school time.

Allowing your child to select and plan activities also provides as sense of ownership of what happens next. Positive anticipation is a great way to boost confidence. 

7. Sometimes children can develop annoying habits like tearing paper. Don't get upset. Simply show them items that you consider appropriate to tear for a better use like creating mosaic pictures. Be creative when problem solving.

8. I could go all day, but I will only add one other thing. Parents, don't forget each others needs.
        Be supportive of one another.
        No one is to blame.
        Remember that you are in this together.
        Check-in with each other throughout the day if for no other reason than to say, "How are you
        doing", "We will get through this together" and "I love you."

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