Life can be overwhelming for children with Aspergers syndrome.
As a special needs parent, I’m willing to bet you’d love to make life easier for your child. You watch his struggles and wonder how you can help. Since Dr. J just turned eight, I’ve been contemplating how far he has come in the last five years. By no means do I know everything, but these ten things have helped my son navigate life’s choppy waters, and they can help your child, too. Most of these will help other special needs children as well.
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Ten ways you can help your child with Aspergers
- Find vocabulary that works. Children with Aspergers syndrome tend to be very literal and they also have difficulty with emotion and abstract concepts. You need to find ways to talk to your child that they can understand. When I ask, “Why did you like that?” I usually get, “I don’t know.” However, my odds for a decent answer increase when I ask, “What did you like about that chapter?” I’ve made it less abstract and turned it into a “what”. One book that has helped me with this in the social skills area is You Are a Social Detective. Sometimes you will feel like it takes a lot of work to come up with just the right words, but it is definitely worth it.
- Give her words to say. This is a twist on #1. Not only do we need to find the right words to say to our special needs children, we also need to give them an arsenal of words to explain how they feel, how they need help, what they’re thinking, etc. During a sibling fight, for example, take a moment to tell your child, “Instead of hitting your brother when he’s being mean to you, come ask an adult for help.” When My Worries Get too Big helps spectrum kids talk about overwhelming emotions in a concrete way. I highly recommend it. You can start introducing it as early as 3 1/2, depending on your child.
- Teach him how to use lists. This may not work for all Aspies, but I know many get comfort from lists and seeing things on paper. Lists also help an overwhelmed child break down what needs to be done. For example, for a long time room clean up was a disaster (still is, some days!). When I finally started making a checklist, Dr. J did much better. He didn’t have the capability to decide what to do when. It was just one overwhelming blob for him. The list brought peace and concreteness to the task and also gave him control.
- Offer choices when possible and appropriate. Many kids with Aspergers like to feel in control because so much of their life feels out of control. When you give your child a choice, you make him feel more in charge. For example, “Would you like to wear this sweatshirt or this sweater?” You’re still guiding your child towards appropriate clothing, but she feels in charge of her situation.
- Help her find ways to cope. Life is not always sunshine and roses. We all experience bad days, and we need to cope with them. Our children need to learn coping skills as well. Perhaps you teach your child to go to a special spot and relax when she finds herself overwhelmed. Does a certain item help her calm down? Coach her to find it when she’s feeling out of control.
- Allow him space to try on his own. This one can be difficult for the special needs mom. You don’t want to see your child hurt. You hope to avoid as many meltdown as possible. However, if we never let our children try to figure things out on their own, we end up hurting them. After all, aren’t we trying to help them become as independent as possible?
- Foster an interest that makes her feel good about herself. Lately the boys and I have been learning about cooking. They both feel pretty proud of themselves when they work in the kitchen. What interests can also help your child feel accomplished?
- Provide opportunities to build friendships. Many special needs kiddos need help making friends and strengthening those friendships. They may not end up being the social butterfly of their world, but it is good for them to have at least one or two friends they can relate to and enjoy spending time with. Schedule play dates or take your child to the park. You will probably need to do modeling. Show them what friends do and illustrate how friends talk to each other. You may even want to give them some ideas for things to talk about ahead of time. For example, “I wonder if Joe likes football, too. Today why don’t you ask him if he likes to watch football.”
- Remark on his successes both big and small. Our kids need encouragement. They work so hard to achieve what comes naturally to other children. Do you notice your child is being kind to a sibling today? Comment on it and thank him! Did he try something new even though he didn’t want to? Praise him. This blesses him in the moment and grows his confidence for the future.
- Remind him of God’s care. The best way to empower your child is to teach him about God and how to have a relationship with him. God is always there, even when you’re not. All of our children, special needs or not, are going to face hard things in life. Teaching them the Bible and about God’s character is the best thing we can give them to deal with life.
Have you experienced other ways to empower your child? I’d love to hear!
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