In my work in the autism community for the last twenty years, I have seen that there is no goal more important than helping a child cultivate self-esteem and a positive sense of self. This is important not only because it will help a child to experience more confidence and happiness in his life (what is more important than that?!), but also because it helps a child be much more open to learn and grow in a variety of other ways.
Below are 3 strategies to begin this process and embark on a journey that will be deeply meaningful for you and your child.
1. Identify and cultivate your child’s strengths and passions.
To explain this strategy more fully, I want to share a story about a Mom named Mary and her son Jason. Jason loved the songs from the synagogue services she took him to on Saturday mornings. One of her son’s therapists, with the best intention in world, encouraged her to stop taking him to synagogue because the songs were distracting him from the other learning he was doing at school (he would continue to hum and sing the songs during the week). So Mary listened and they stopped going to weekly synagogue services.
What happened next is the important part. Mary reported to me that he became depressive and unmotivated to do or learn anything.
I suggested we rethink this plan and I strongly advocated that she brings him back to synagogue. I explained that his passion for songs was actually the doorway for all other meaningful growth. Mary took my advice and brought her son back to synagogue and he was thrilled! From the love of song, he learned to play the piano. From the love of piano, he learned to be a community leader and he performed at a very successful autism fundraiser in their home in front of a group of people.
Nothing will give your child a stronger sense of self than validating what he loves and what he is good at.
2. Develop your child’s independence.
Find the places where you can help your child become more independent, for example; getting himself dressed in the morning or preparing some of his own food. Identify the times where you might hover or come in and adjust something he is doing and instead take a step back and allow your child to be truly independent. Prioritize his experience of independence over getting something done the way you want it done. This will allow your child to experience the empowerment that comes from doing something on your own.
3. Speak to your child’s TRUE intelligence.
If there is anything I would scream from the rooftops it would be this.
Your child’s verbal production means NOTHING about your child’s comprehension. This point has been confirmed over and over again by people with autism who are non-verbal and communicate via typing or pointing. The incredible depth and intelligence of a person, that others thought was impossible, began to emerge.
So be aware of not doing baby talk or talking about your child in front of him as if he does not understand. Tell your child what you are doing and why and what you believe he is capable of. Talking to your child in this way will communicate your belief in his intelligence and abilities and he will stand taller for it!
By implementing the strategies above, you are well on your way to helping your child develop a more positive sense of self and empowered life experience.
Tali Berman is an autism specialist and author and has worked with hundreds of children from over 30 different countries since 1997. She has authored the book “Play to Grow! Over 200 games to help your special child develop fundamental social skills”, which is now sold in 4 languages and was voted as a top 5 resource by the Special Needs Book Review.
She has been an ongoing contributor to the Generation Rescue Blog, Autism File Magazine and presented at the National Autism Association Conference in 2017 on autism and self-esteem. Tali currently lives with her husband and three children in Israel.
Tali will be coming to Tampa on October 7th to present a workshop, alongside Dr. David Berger (board certified pediatrician), titled “An Innovative and Integrative Approach to Autism: Key Strategies to Actualize Your Child’s Potential”.
CLICK HERE for more details and to save your spot.