When we think of our children on the autism spectrum, a social resilient mindset is not the first thing that springs to mind. In their latest book, Robert Brooks, Ph.D., and Sam Goldstein, Ph.D., explore strategies gleamed from their clinical practice working with children diagnosed with ASD and their families. Indeed, the focus for helping children develop this social mindset is on encouraging parents and other charismatic adults to establish empathetic communication and acceptance, rather than concentrating on the child’s difficulties. As they write:
“Parents strongly influence, however, whether children with ASD will develop the characteristics and mindset associated with resilience or whether they will be burdened by low self-worth, self-doubt, and a diminished sense of hope.” (p.29)
The authors recognize the challenge of being an empathetic parent to a child “whose perceptions and behaviors are often strikingly different from our own.” (p.32). Thus the authors provide real-life examples of how they’ve guided other families through the process, and helped them overcome the challenges they faced along the way. Once parents have faced the challenge of relating to their children in a way that doesn’t cause the child to shut down, they are then given strategies to encourage children to solve the problems they are facing.
One of the strategies the authors promote I found particularly appealing- the notion of using ‘bubble-talk’ to encourage a child to learn the difference between thoughts which may be vocalized, and those which are distressing or off-putting to others. This technique was used with great success with a number of individuals to help develop more appropriate social interactions. Though we haven’t personally encountered this problem yet, I know it is only a matter of time, and I will definitely be using this technique with both Pudding and Cubby.
A central tenet Raising Resilient Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders is the role of parents in nurturing “Islands of Competence” in their children. Many of us have noticed the way our children light up when they can demonstrate their talents. It just feels right to build on these skills, rather than constantly trying to remediate challenges. The authors describe promoting the special interests, or unique skills and experience that the individual has and using those as a basis for developing esteem and self-worth. For many children featured in the book, this was about taking an area of perseveration and allowing this knowledge to be showcased as a talent to be enjoyed by others, and a way of relating to peers. Of particular poignance was the way the therapists encouraged a ten-year-old boy with Asperger’s to write a book describing how he dealt with his mother’s death, which was subsequently displayed in the school library.
As many of us are aware, our children are all different, and what works for one may have opposite effect on another. Brooks and Goldstein advocate that we “consider potential roadblocks in advance…knowing that if one approach does no work, there are others that might, provides families with a very precious commodity: hope.” (pp.171-2). Indeed, just because a strategy is not successful in our first attempt, it does not mean that it won’t work later. Rather than seeing the problem of our child’s behavior, or indeed- in our parenting- we should look at the ways we can address particular skills.
This book will be of particular use to parents whose relationship with their child could use some expert guidance to get it back on track, especially those who frequently find their well-intentioned efforts to help their children fix their problems and social deficits are rebuffed or have disastrous consequences. A guide to supporting and promoting a child’s strengths and talents to allow them to champion adversity and develop the social resilience so essential for a positive outcome in adulthood.
“Children with ASD are capable of finding happiness, success, attachment, and comfort in adult life…this book will be of help to parents and other caregivers of children on the autism spectrum to attain this happiness and resilience.” (pp. 248-9)
Raising Resilient Children with Autism SPectrum Disorders is by Robert Brooks, Ph.D., and Sam Goldstein, Ph.D. and is published by McGraw-Hill. It is available now at Amazon and other leading book stores.