Parents of autistic children are bound to wonder how they can help their own kids attain the same level of accomplishment and extreme likability enjoyed by Dr. Temple Grandin, autism self-advocate, renowned animal behavior expert and subject of the recent HBO film that carries her name.
Well, parents may get a little help from the source, as Dr. Grandin has graciously agreed to spend a little time with Examiner.com answering the question of what parents can do to prepare their children for a meaningful career, healthy relationships and community inclusion. "Every child has different abilities and learning styles," she cautioned, "but there are some general things that parents can do that will help most kids on the spectrum." Here are her top five suggestions:
1. Develop the child's areas of strengths. Focusing only on delays and weaknesses is not the answer. Developing areas of strength, on the other hand, helps build a child's confidence and the courage to try new things. And, when parents believe that their children can accomplish goals, children learn to believe likewise.
2.Teach good manners, particularly turn-taking. Good manners are the basis of strong social skills. But good manners aren't only a matter of teaching a child how to say their pleases and thank yous. Grandin believes that turn-taking is particularly important as it teaches children to adapt to many different social situations - from conversational flows to sports to the ubiquitous waiting games of life. And teaching turn-taking can be fun. "I learned turn-taking by playing the game of Parcheesi with my mother,' said Grandin. Interactive games are a prime example of what experts call educational play, a highly effective teaching technique.
3. Expose autistic children to stressors, but recognize the seriousness of sensory triggers, "Don't ignore sensory overload," Grandin warns. "It is very real." She reports that sensory issues do tend to get better over time, especially with repeated exposure to what causes the stress. "Sometimes sensory stress is related to smell, sometimes to touch, sometimes to taste or to temperature," explains Grandin. Identifying the causes of sensory overload is the first step in ameliorating them, and there are many fine occupational therapists who can help de-sensitize a child to these stressors.
4. Avoid long strings of instruction and employ 1-1 teaching as needed. Keep directions short and to the point. "We simply cannot follow long strings of verbal instructions," explained Grandin. And, because some concepts are very difficult to learn, individualized help is far more effective than traditional classroom instruction.
5. Monitor and manage progress. Grandin emphasizes the importance of monitoring and measuring progress. If a child isn't progressing, parents should try a different approach, either by using a different technique, a different setting, a different teacher or by adding more one-to-one tutoring.