Appreciating Autism in our Daily Practice

In my quest to encourage people to simply appreciate their co-workers, friends, and loved ones with autism, I sometimes come across this reaction:

“…but my child doesn’t know how to brush his teeth/take a bath/play independently. If I don’t make him learn, how will he ever be independent?”

I also struggle with this dilemma. When we actively teach skills to people with autism, we are walking a tightrope between creating eventual independence, and squashing someone’s true nature. How far should we push someone to do something new, before we are infringing on their dignity?

Here is what I say: If we can make appreciating the true character of the child central to our daily practice, we will keep the equilibrium we need to make solid moment-to-moment decisions. We can take time to plan stuff for them that they will LOVE, even if it’s not therapeutic. If a child loves bright colors, and could use some practice on personal hygiene skills, we can bring some bright paper or cloth out in the yard, play with it, and leave the skills for another time. We can find ways for her/him to get the sensory feedback they crave. Sometimes, we don’t have to practice anything hard.

The Pressure of the Future:

Many parents of children with autism feel as if the entire burden of their child’s future rests with them, and if they could find the right therapy, the right combination of supplements, the right helper, then their child would be OK. This may or not be true. What is certainly true is that if you and your child don’t share some joyful moments, you will both feel frustrated, and under-appreciated.

When I center some of my daily musings on creating big fun (whatever that means for each child), l feel some weight lift off my shoulders. It’s not like I’m going to just stop teaching kids anything, but I’ve found that creating joy, just for fun’s sake, can center my mind to be able to take on the daily challenge of deciding moment-by-moment which battles to pick, and how to stick with them. Creating eventual independence for a child is truly an act of love, but we don’t have to wait until they are ‘finished learning’ to spend some time enjoying them, enjoying life.


  1. Patti S September 10, 2009 11:46 am  Reply

    Agree- sometimes the phone calls, e-mails, battles, paperwork make me lose sight of these wonderful teenagers I am teaching. The stress can become blinding. But by enjoying a few minutes of so type of “fun” it is bonding and it helps me to breath again and refocus on the real reason I am in the classroom.
    Take time everyday to have tose few minutes of hysterical fun- the connections made during these activities are so meaningful and can make overcoming other less joyful tasks easier!

  2. betty February 21, 2010 1:08 pm  Reply

    You Tube has some videos of a very self abusive autistic young adult. Go to you tube and type in “autism self injury” The family uses music, pets, etc…as interventions. They don’t claim any cures. And you can see why. This is one of the most severe cases of autism ever documented. Extremely complex. Nothing like what the media is familiar with. I like one video the family puts out, in particular, it’s called “autism epidemic out of control” but it’s not what you think. It’s a video showing their son who is really severely autistic and it cites research into some of the fraudulent cases of autism the media keeps portraying as real autismm, but really aren’t. Interesting.

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