It is often said that a parent is a child’s first teacher, playing an important role where development and learning are concerned. A diagnosis of autism only reinforces this belief, in the sense that the parent will work harder to help his/her child develop strengths and overcome challenges. Social skills, specifically self-awareness and self-determination are vital to your child’s future.
You can teach social skills
Self-awareness is a difficult concept for almost all autistic children, but nonetheless, it is a social skill that they must learn and use every day. As parents, you bear the responsibility of “equipping” your children with such skills, preparing them for becoming their own advocates in adolescence and adulthood.
We can empower autistic children from an early age, helping them become more aware of their own self and also to discover self-determination. Our efforts will allow them to express themselves in an capable manner, to better understand those around them and engage in suitable behavior in response.
What are the factors affecting self-awareness in autistic children?
Autistic children might battle language and communication impairment, as well as social difficulties and sensory differences. They might exhibit stereotypical behaviors or intense interests. It goes without saying that all of these impairments will affect self-awareness.
Imagine your child as being equipped with the wrong skills. He/she does not know how to express how he/she is feeling, and they have serious difficulty understanding others. An autistic child might not know the expected behaviors and emotions, and he/she will rarely consider how others are feeling or what they are thinking.
Main factors affecting self-awareness are:
- Difficulty with transitions/changes
- Deficits in understanding emotional exchange
- Lack of attention to others
- Language and social communication impairments
- Impaired ability to take another’s perspective
Empowering your child to develop self-awareness
Your child has both strengths and weaknesses. As mentioned in the beginning, you can empower your child by working together on developing his/her strengths.
Parents have an amazing power, in the sense that they can help their children understand not only how the world functions but also how they should function in that world. Self-regulation will appear as a natural result, allowing the child to advocate for himself/herself, especially in difficult situations.
Activities/solutions for improved self-awareness from study.com
- Drawing a bug on paper and adding pictures of things that “bug” him/her – encourage the child to be as specific as possible, adding foods, animals, etc.
- Glue a photograph of your child to a piece of paper and ask them to draw things he/she is good at; images might be used for non-verbal children. Encourage the child to reflect on his/her strengths.
- Yes/no – read your child simple sentences, waiting for his/her answer. If non-verbal, use gestures to signify approval or negation. Examples: “I like to eat…”, “I prefer (toys)”, “My favorite activity is…” The goal of this activity is to help your child be able to identify their preferences and communicate them to others.
- Mirror self-awareness – working in the mirror, together with your child, to develop self-recognition; the more you work, the more aware the child will become of his/her body and its position in space. Work on gestures and making eye contact as well.
This is also a critical skill to achieve, as it will guarantee independence in adolescence and adulthood. Research has confirmed that it plays an important part in academic success, as well as in personal life. Social skills can predict the capacity for self-determination – as a parent, you need to work on these every day.
How to help your child achieve self-determination
- Provide your child with opportunities to make decisions and then follow through with them even if you know the outcome might not be ideal.
- Teach your child the specific behaviours for specific situations, and do not make the assumption that an autistic child will know the correct behaviour without being taught.
- Be patient and offer concrete examples of the behaviour you expect to see. Tell your child what to do, not only what not to do. Give your child plenty of opportunities to observe adequate behaviour.
- Practice, practice and practice. Do not expect for your child to learn social skills automatically, but rather keep in mind that learning requires both observation and practice. Offer your child the support he/she needs, and plenty of encouragement.
While it is true that applied behaviour analysis can help autistic children develop a lot of valuable skills, you have to remember that in many autistic children, skills don’t automatically generalize. The skills learned in therapy must be practiced at home in order to be solidified and maintained. The earlier you teach self-awareness and self-determination, the easier it will be for your child to advocate for himself/herself later in life.