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Tips, Advice, How-to

All Kids Change--Even Kids with ASDs
November 5, 2011

Many books focus on the nature of ASDs. But as any parent can tell you, our kids are a lot more than just their diagnoses. And while having an ASD may plot some detours and rough roads along the developmental trajectory, we should never forget that kids do grow and change, albeit a little differently.

Dr. Teresa Bolick writes excellent books that look at kids with ASDs developmentally. Her Asperger Syndrome and Young Children and Asperger Syndrome and Adolescence are among my favorites of the hundreds of AS- and autism-related books in my library (okay, just a lot of white shelves from Ikea). I really like the fact that each book focuses on a particular stage of development, because accommodations, demands, expectations, and skills that are appropriate at one stage may not be so in another.

One of the big "speed bumps" parents and professionals hit when developing strategies and objectives for kids with ASDs is continuing to refer to what I call "old realities." Yes, when your six-year-old with Asperger Syndrome could not handle the sound of the fire drill, it was appropriate for him to be discreetly moved out of the building before it sounded. But just as our kids grow and change, so do the effects of their ASDs and their ability to navigate them. A fouteen-year-old who can understand what the fire drill is and perhaps learn some strategies for coping with the auditory sensitivity and related anxiety will be better able to cope in life generally than one who simply avoids the fire drill every time.

Is either way "right" or "wrong"? Nope. But one is more appropriate than the other for a six-year-old, and the other is more appropriate for a fourteen-year-old. As parents, we surely know our child better than anyone else does. But do we always keep up with how they sometimes change? If your child has that list of things she does freely and comfortably with anyone else but you, then you know what I mean.

Sometimes we miss seeing where and how our child has grown because we avoid the opportunity out of habit or fear of a bad experience. Most parents of kids with ASDs have at least some part of their parenting history (the inexplicable tantrums, fears, and problems we did not understand or know how to address then) that's not so pleasant to revisit and that we quickly learn not to repeat, for our child's sake and our own. There are many things you can say about history, but perhaps the best is that it's always in the past. Or, as my sister-in-law recently posted on Facebook: "Don't look back; you're not going there."

Raising a child with a disability requires many things: among them looking ahead and taking risks. If you find yourself thinking about something your child does (or doesn't do) in absolute terms like "always" and "never," consider challenging yourself. Consider giving your child the option of doing something a bit differently than usual. In my new book, I recount a story about my son and his ever-present hat. If you had asked me, I'd have told you quite firmly that he "had" to wear his hat and there would be no way of getting him to give it up. Really? The day he was told he couldn't ride his bike if he didn't wear his helmet (and, no, despite his commendable efforts to demonstrate otherwise, you cannot wear a helmet on top of a baseball cap), we didn't get a full-blown meltdown or other psyche-scarring response. Instead we got a kid who whined a bit, and then took off his cap, put on his helmet, and rode away. He learned a lesson that day, and so did we. He was growing up, and we had to keep up.

Thank you for reading!