Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What an Autistic Adult Wants You to Know About Your Child on the Spectrum By Arman Khodaei

Recently we've all read an article on eHow about how to get your autistic child to stop stimming. A lot of parents were upset, I for one said some things that while weren't entirely rude...had I known the whole story and who wrote it, I would have rephrased what I wrote in response to the article. In addition to that were lots of parents attacking. It caused the writer of the article to post a public apology and even post video. When I saw that my heart broke, I saw my future Racer trying to succeed in a world that won't always understand him. So I reached out to that writer, I asked him if he would be interested in guest posting for me. He said yes and so now I bring you.

Here is his website if you want to check out some of his stuff www.empowerautismnow.com

What an Autistic Adult Wants You to Know About Your Child 

on the Autism Spectrum 

My name is Arman Khodaei, and I am a 26-year-old with mild autism. Being a parent can be quite the challenge. A lot of parents question whether they are doing the right thing, and what is the right thing to do, and what is the best strategy to help their child.

Growing up, there were not the same amount of resources on autism as there are today. For starters, fewer books existed, Temple Grandin was one of the only autistic people representing people on the autism spectrum, and there was no Internet. There weren't articles, blogs, and books like there are today to tell parents how to raise their autistic child. 

When parenting an autistic child there are a few factors that need to be considered. First, you need to look at where your child is developmentally. Some children are more impacted by autism than other children. For other children, autism is sometimes a gift. And, for some children, autism can severely affect that child in profound ways.

The second factor you need to consider are your own beliefs. Some parents believe in rewards based systems. Other parents feel that rewards don't work and punishment, such as taking away privileges, is more effective. I am not here to say one parent is right and another wrong. However, some parents do question if they are doing the right thing. 

This is a touchy topic. Ultimately, as a parent, you want the best for your child. You want them to become successful, you want to see them happy, make friends, and even get married someday. That is the dream. Although, sometimes, it is easy to give up on your dream, especially if your child is severely impacted by autism. Sometimes, it is hard to face reality.

My mom was tough on me. She punished me, and over time, her methods were effective. She grounded me. She spanked me. And, she sometimes, took privileges away. However, she also did reward me, and overall, she was a nice person. 

Perhaps, the single most important thing that my mom did was to always push me outside my comfort zone. She wouldn't let me get away with not saying “hi” to other kids. She had me join activities and meet other kids. She saw a bright future for me. She expected the best out of me, and when I didn't perform my best, she sometimes showed disapproval. Although, this was not always the case.

More than anything, my mom knew I could improve my social skills. She knew that I had what it took to learn appropriate social behaviors. In my teenage years, I avoided my peers, and when I did engage in a conversation, I only discussed my passion, Star Wars. Sometimes, in class, I would raise my hand and say something strange that startled my classmates such as my belief that aliens might exist and could visit our world or that someday we might download ourselves into the Internet. Yes, I did not filter what I said. I spoke in monotone. My voice was soft and no one could hear me. I did not look people in the eye and sometimes had conversations with my back turned.

But, my mom worked on pointing out what was and wasn't appropriate social behavior and that helped a great deal. After some time, I pursued improving my social skills on my own, reading books on body language, taking an interpersonal communication course, and even forcing myself to have conversations with strangers. But, that wasn't parenting. That was my own decision. And, perhaps, there lies the greatest lesson: You can't make your child do something they don't want to do. The ultimate goal is to make your child want to do it.

You see, if a child is unwilling to learn, you have an uphill battle. Things are going to be tough. My mom fought many of these battles. Sometimes, she lost. But, she won a lot of the battles as well, but at what cost? If tension can be lessened, then results can come more easily as well, but at the same time, you don't want your child to get away with inappropriate behaviors, and sometimes, your child may not know that a behavior is inappropriate. To them, what they are doing might be perfectly normal.
Stimming behaviors such as had-flapping is something I often get asked about. Parents worry about their child being made fun-of in public or at school. For me, when I flap my hands, I do so because it offers me a rush of excitement. It feels good. Some autistic people stim because it calms down. Spinning in circles or rocking back and forth are especially soothing. In the end, I think the goal should be to teach your child how to manage their stimming behaviors so they don't do them in public. However, stimming is also a good way of dealing with anxiety and being overloaded, and in many autistic individuals, anxiety runs high. So, in my opinion, stimming should not be entirely taken away.

Other social behaviors can be a bit of a challenge to teach your child. For example, how do you teach your child to make eye contact? Well, to be honest, I sometimes find eye contact to cause me anxiety. I feel uncomfortable and other autistic people have told me the same thing. But, there is a technique that you can use to help your child. The primary technique involves making eye contact with news reporters on TV. Because the news reporter is not physically in the room, the child most likely won't feel as uncomfortable as they would trying to make eye contact in real life.

The list of behaviors goes on and on, and the question also remains do I try and change my child, or do I let them be? My belief is that if the child is mildly impacted by autism that they have great potential to live an amazing life. But, in order to live an amazing life, you have to be willing to compromise in some ways to fit in with society. Some autistic people don't like hearing those words, but it is true, well, usually. You are expected to sometimes engage in small talk and be nice and not just talk   about yourself. You are expected to make eye contact and to speak clearly. You are expected to have some degree of social skills. Society has expectations.

So, then, what do you do about your child? How do you prepare them for the world, especially if they have their own vision of how the world works and there own goals which may seem unrealistic to you? The answer is that you believe in your child, and you try to help them achieve their goals. But, you also tell them that in order to achieve their goals that they will meet people somehow. Even a writer has to interact with a book publisher, give speeches, and do book signings. No matter what career you have later in life, you will meet people.

In some cases, you might be lucky and have a teen that wants a girlfriend, and I say you're lucky because that presents a most excellent opportunity to teach social skills. If your child wants a girlfriend, awesome! You can then tell your child what is and isn't appropriate social conduct and your teen might take your advice because they want to be successful!

In short, what I am getting at is that the best parenting is where you and your child are on the same page. Your child has their goals, and you have your goals, but you learn how to meld your goals with their goals. In other words, don't be one-sided as a parent. Sometimes, especially if their child is more impacted by autism, I tell parents to enter their child's world. If you're kid likes Spider-Man, then get a Spider-Man costume and have Spider-Man talk to your kid and tell them what is and isn't right. They will respect Spider-Man more than they will respect you, especially if Spider-Man is their hero, the biggest thing to them. Also, try to be as passionate about your child's interest as they are. If you are passionate about their likes, then that shows them that you are a part of their world. For most autistic people, our passion, is who we are!


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