As a mom of a 53-year-old autistic son, I am enthusiastic to know more in all aspects of autism.
In addition to researching on the internet, I like to attend conferences on autism to learn what is new on the research horizon and what new therapies are available.
Available New Therapies
Recently, I attended a national conference.
I became aware of new vitamin and mineral therapies, tents to eliminate EMF waves, fortified water and juices, behavior therapies, and so much more.
I must admit I was like a kid in a candy store!
Then reality set in.
A Matter to Consider
While I eagerly went from booth to booth, I felt my hope dashed as I realized the enormous financial cost of the various products and therapies.
It was astounding!
While some therapies are insurance-covered, none of the supplements were.
Am I Alone?
This started me wondering if most parents of autistic children could afford these wonderful sounding therapies?
I then remembered very recently discussing therapies with a parent whose insurance would no longer cover her child’s autism therapy leaving her anxious, bewildered, and angry.
How many other parents were experiencing this situation of having the prospect of a therapy waved in front of them like a magic wand –
But it’s unattainable because of the cost?
Looking for Help
When my son, Joe, received his diagnosed in the 1970s, there were no parenting networks, no vitamin or behavior therapies, no organizations to assist me.
I needed to be creative in how I would accomplish helping my child to be happy, healthy and reach the potential I believed he had.
Back then, as a single mom raising my son, I did not have extra money for therapies even if they had existed.
I realized that there still are many parents today that do not have the funds for these therapies.
A Different Route
Back then, I needed information on how to make the most of my autistic child’s abilities.
While in my first college course, I learned of a developmental theorist, Eric Erikson, who seemed to have the very information I needed to help my son.
As I became more familiar with these goals, I realized they were a blueprint for helping me to understand the needs of my son better and help him.
The best thing about implementing this theory is that it costs nothing financially; the only cost is in the time and energy of parents and teachers.
Missing Pieces in the Theory
Even though Erikson’s theory is practical and easy to use, it doesn’t include any specific information on how to help autistic children achieve life goals.
I developed these best FREE autism resources.
A system which cost me nothing apart from my energy and time for my son.
At the time, I had no way of knowing that my changes to Erikson’s theory would be successful.
But it turned out that my instincts as a mother were correct.
Today, Joe has a master’s degree.
The Challenges AND Assets of Autism
Autistic children have challenges, but they also have valuable assets to counter the challenges they face in achieving goals.
The 4 Best FREE Autism Resources You Already Have
Life Goals of Childhood with an Autism Twist
My adaptation of Erikson’s theory specifically addresses the challenges and the assets of autistic children so they may achieve these all-important life goals.
1. How to Build Relationships Through “Trust”
Infants must develop trust, must know and expect that someone is always there with consistent and timely responses as their survival and sense of safety depends on this trust.
Life with Joe: Two Autism Challenges and Their Solutions
First Challenge: Discomfort with Touch
Sensory sensitivity, a primary characteristic of autism, can cause discomfort when you hold an infant during feeding, bathing, or just cuddling.
At first, not realizing Joe’s skin was so sensitive to touch, I would pick him up when he cried and cuddled him close to me.
His reaction of crying louder was not what I expected!
Being confused, I looked for ways to comfort him while not causing him to cry louder.
My Solution: The Gentle Touch
Through trial and error, I learned that Joe felt comforted by gentle touch, so I would lightly touch his cheek and used gentle strokes when bathing him.
These behaviors seemed to ease Joe’s discomfort causing him to cry less.
Second Challenge: Difficulty Sleeping
Sensory sensitivity can also cause an infant to have difficulty falling asleep.
Household noises, such as the TV, the neighbors, literally anything can cause a sensory overload and make bedtime extremely difficult for an autistic infant.
Joe had difficulty falling asleep in his crib but not in his baby swing.
It was transporting him to his crib that was the main problem as he awoke when I picked him up and, of course, cried until I placed him back in his swing.
My Solution: The Soft Touch
I finally realized that Joe, for some reason, was not comfortable in his crib.
While lightly stroking his cheek helped him to fall asleep by 2:00 a.m., this was not the complete issue with his inability to fall asleep.
Thinking Joe might feel lonely in his crib, I placed soft stuffed animals in his crib with him as soon as I believed it was safe.
This helped tremendously as Joe fell asleep faster and slept more soundly.
I did not know if he was lonely or just needed something soft to touch.
Either way, he fell asleep.
Through trial and error, I found ways to soothe and comfort Joe, enabling him to sleep and feel comfortable.
WHAT A RELIEF.
2.Build a Sense of Autonomy and Self-Reliance
How to Handle Autonomy vs. Shame (Early Childhood – 1 ½-3 years old)
The successful development of trust as an infant enables toddlers in this second stage of life to explore their environment, take risks, and learn what they are capable of doing.
While setting up safe, comfortable environments is a given, an interesting and interactive environment will help autistic toddlers to feel motivated to explore.
It can entice them out of their private worlds.
Life with Joe: The Autistic Challenge and Solution
The Challenge: The Sensitive Senses – Again
Again, due to sensory sensitivity and being overwhelmed by sounds and smells, toddlers may prefer to remain in their private worlds.
This hampers exploration, self-discovery, and learning.
Being aware of what attracts autistic toddlers gives parents information on how to design the environment for maximum exploration.
This helps toddlers to achieve the second life goal.
As a toddler, Joe loved to sit on the floor or walk around the house “being a fan.”
He would make circular motions with his hands, which is OK sometimes.
But it would not help him to learn about himself and what he was capable of doing.
My Solution: Redecorate
Joe liked color (but not bright colors), soft plastic objects, wooden toys, stuffed animals, books and, of all things, cardboard.
So, I redecorated the house removing breakable objects and replacing them with colorful but not brightly colored toys, wooden blocks, stuffed animals, books, and yes, cardboard.
Family and friends would criticize me for my unique decorating style, as they believed Joe would not learn the meaning of “no.”
Which, of course, he did learn considering such items as the stove and electric outlets are not removable.
This worked beautifully as Joe explored, learning about himself and his environment.
3. How to Build a Sense of Motivation and Accomplishment
Handling Initiative vs. Guilt (Preschool – 3-5 years old)
While toddlerhood is about physically exploring their environment, preschool age is about exploring ideas.
It’s all about having the freedom to think of and initiate activities, learning that they can put ideas into action.
Life with Joe: The Challenge and the Solution
The Autistic Challenge: Difficulty Focusing on Others
Because we lived in a neighborhood with mostly older people, I enrolled Joe in a preschool as he needed more socialization with other children.
Joe did not sit in his seat nor did he follow her instructions
And as a result the motivated but inexperienced teacher became frustrated and asked me, every week, to remove Joe from her class.
I refused as Joe really needed time with other children but also, he loved being at preschool.
I couldn’t break his heart.
My Solution: Practice Makes Perfect?
I kept Joe in the class and began practicing class games with him at home.
I hoped this would help him pay better attention and do what the other students were doing.
On graduation night, Joe was on stage with the other preschool graduates singing the “Rubber Ducky” song and dancing to the music.
I felt thrilled. Joe was participating. He sang. Danced. He laughed.
However, Joe was singing his own words and dancing his own dance.
After the ceremony, his teacher came up to me, and emphatically stated that Joe had ruined the ceremony, saying she never wanted Joe in her class again.
That night, Joe left with a smile on his face.
And even though I left with a broken heart, I realized that I had achieved my goal.
Joe involved himself on that stage.
4. How to Build Self-Esteem and Self-Worth, Motivation to Complete Projects
Industry vs. Inferiority (School age – 5-12 years old)
The objective at this stage is to assist autistic children in focusing on a project at hand, completing it successfully.
Autistic children can spend hours on projects in their interest areas.
And the goal for parents and teachers is to transfer this intense focus from the interest area activities to the activities in the classroom.
As autistic children become more involved in classroom activities and complete them successfully, they will become motivated to initiate and complete the next project or goal.
This is vital for future learning and motivation to achieve.
Life with Joe: The Challenge and The Solution
The Autistic Challenge: Focusing
In the classroom, Joe quietly did his own thing, which frustrated his teachers. I felt for them.
He learned, but rarely communicated to his teachers what he had learned in the classroom.
Participating in class activities and completing assignments was the challenge.
My Solution: Joe’s Assets – His Memory and Interest Area
Joe had an incredible memory, remembering everything he heard and read giving him exceptional knowledge in his interest areas of geography and history.
His teachers saw value in his incredible memory in these areas and asked him to “teach” this information to the other students.
Joe’s teachers were able to draw Joe out of his private world using his interest area.
After teaching the class these subjects, Joe felt successful.
He achieved respect from classmates and felt motivated to participate and complete assignments.
As a mom of an autistic child, I feel thrilled with the research on autism and the variety of therapies available to parents and teachers.
As a school psychologist and psychology professor, I am optimistic about the scope and magnitude of the current research into autism.
These therapies could someday ensure that parents will not experience the same struggles that I had when Joe was a child.
However, as of now, most of these therapies are out of the financial reach for too many parents whose children desperately need assistance.
So, I am offering another route, an affordable and proven route that worked for my son.
The Advantage of My Four Life Goals Strategy
With subtle but profound changes made to each life stage, Joe was able to achieve the very important childhood goals to help him function and be successful.
I had the time of my life discovering and implementing what helped Joe to learn as it enabled me to spend more quality time with my child.
My hope is that you experiment, discover, and implement what works best for your children and students.
And ENJOY it as much as I did.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Carol is the mother of a 53-year-old autistic son. She is an educator, school psychologist, parenting group facilitator and the author of Against All Odds, Our Life Journey with Autism.
Carol has been in the field of education for almost 40 years. She has had the opportunity to teach grades K-12, was a high school counselor and school psychologist, and has specialized in working with at-risk children and adolescents. Carol has facilitated groups at a local Orange County, California clinic where she worked with adolescents recently released from juvenile hall, adults with anger issues, and parents who experienced custody difficulties during divorce proceedings or have lost their children to Social Services for a variety of reasons.
Carol presently teaches psychology at an Orange County, California college. She is the author of two additional children’s books on differences: The Draco Twins Make a Discovery and The Draco Twins Turn Bullies into Buddies.