Autism Awareness Month: How to Encourage Your Child’s Strengths
If there’s a child with autism in your life, you already know that they have some pretty cool talents. They might be a skillful basketball player, make the best pancakes around, or be great at learning new songs. In honor of Autism Awareness Month, we’re celebrating all the incredible strengths kids with autism can have, as well as suggesting some ways you can encourage their gifts.
People often talk about the challenges that kids with autism can face. They can be more at risk of predation and cyberbullying, for example. But instead of presenting you with a list of challenges, we want to focus on the incredible abilities that can accompany being neurodivergent. Living with autism can mean having distinct skills in a number of areas, and we’re here to celebrate those with you and your family. Here are some helpful suggestions for encouraging your child’s interests and talents.
Play Memory Games Together
You might sometimes find it hard enough to remember what you ate for breakfast this morning, much less something that happened five years ago. But kids with autism can be especially gifted at recalling information from the past. They might remember specific details from a trip your family took a couple of summers ago, or be able to tell you facts from history that you’ve long forgotten. If they’re a Jeopardy! fan, chances are they’re an expert.
Encourage this talent of theirs by playing memory games like Concentration or Clue. Besides just being really fun, playing games that require focus and recall can help your child use their strengths and feel empowered in their own abilities. Being good at something is encouraging, so be proactive about giving your kid the opportunity to flaunt their excellent memory.
Give Them Opportunities to Problem Solve
Coming up with unique ways to address a problem is an incredibly useful skill, and children with autism can be especially gifted in this area! Encourage this talent by asking your kid for help with household tasks. You might find that you’re having trouble fitting your new grocery haul neatly into the refrigerator, for example. Or maybe rain from your gutters is forming a small pool in your garden. Your child might have great ideas for solutions nobody else in your family has thought of yet!
While it might take a little longer to walk through the problem with your child rather than just trying to do it yourself, taking the time to let them excel can really encourage them to use this skill again in the future.
Let Them Express Their Creativity
Does your child love to fingerpaint? Are they content to be molding clay for hours? Maybe they love nothing more than sticking their hands deep into a bucket of Orbeez? Many kids with autism are incredibly creative and find sensory activities helpful, so be sure to lean into that if you have a budding little Cassatt or Pollock in the family.
Don’t put too much pressure on completing a perfect-looking project, though. Letting your kid direct the playtime will help them feel in charge of what they’re creating. Whether they emerge from a watercolor project with a beautiful work of art or just end up spending their artistic time making a big old bucket of slime, it’s safe to say that the time spent getting their hands dirty — literally gloopy and sticky — is sure to be valuable.
Play a “Spot-the-Difference” Game
“Spot-the-difference” online games or books are pretty fun no matter who you are, but children with autism can be especially great at spotting oh-so-tiny variations between two almost identical images because they’re often experts at visual search tasks and visual learning. If this is true for your own child, take this into consideration when you’re helping them learn life skills or complete homework assignments. Instead of creating flashcards that only include words, for example, they might find it helpful to include small icons or drawings to help them remember a concept.
Set aside some time to cuddle up on the couch with your child and flip through some brain teasers together. They’re sure to appreciate the one-on-one time together, and the fun activity will help them continue to strengthen their keen eye.
Encourage Them Through Difficult Tasks
It takes a lot of resolve for a kid to keep trying to improve in an area that doesn’t come naturally to them. While your child might struggle with certain skills, they just might have a huge advantage on their side: One strength that often accompanies autism is perseverance. Whenever you notice that your child refuses to give up even if something is difficult for them, be sure to share words of encouragement.
Giving your child tasks they aren’t so great at yet can help them grow, and going through a struggle side-by-side can encourage them to persevere — whether they’re good at something or not. If they have trouble making phone calls, for example, start off small by pretending to call one another while you’re just sitting side-by-side on the couch. Then, you might progress to calling a grandparent together. As your child takes small steps to grow in an area that’s challenging, their tenacity is sure to serve them well.
Support Their Specific Interests
While some kids can lose interest in a new hobby quickly, children with autism usually devote a good deal of time and attention to the subjects they love most, which means they can become an authority on anything that interests them! Do your best to support your kid’s passions so they can continue to learn more about what they love.
Are they really into sharks? Load up on shark library books, watch all the documentaries you can find (Shark Week, anyone?), and maybe even take a trip to your local aquarium. Neurotypical kids aren’t always so eager to take a deep dive into a topic, so this is one beautiful aspect of your child’s personality to cherish and nurture.
Recognize Autism Awareness Month
Maybe you’ve had lengthy conversations with your child about their autism. Or maybe it’s not a topic that comes up much in your day-to-day life. But taking some time to recognize Autism Awareness Month can give them a chance to appreciate the great ways that autism is a part of who they are. Celebrating their powerful mind and courageous heart can help your child realize just how incredible they are by simply being themselves.
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