Autism Program Bonus Lesson #8

Bonus Lesson #8 - Just because you can, does it mean you should?

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Transcript of Bonus Lesson #8 Below:

During this week’s video I introduced you to neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to rewire itself.

What this means for your child is that the brain they are born with, is not the brain that will be with them forever.

Your child has ability to learn new things and change their neural pathways, like most brains can, we just need to be deliberate about teaching them in ways that you may not have to in a neurotypical child.

You may have already witnessed this with some of the therapies you already engage in and how far your child has come in learning how to do things that didn’t come natural to them, that they are now able to do just like anyone else.

So, in many cases, it may not mean your child can’t do things that neurotypical kids do, they just need more help.

Just like if a neurotypical child was struggling with maths, we might get him a tutor to hone his abilities in maths.

Or if a neurotypical child was struggling to make friends, we might send them to a psychologist to learn how to communicate better or take them to a workshop on social interaction.

Or if a child was good at sports or another hobby and wanted to get better you may hire a coach or help them to engage in more activities that supported the growth of their knowledge and abilities in those areas.

This is what you’re doing with a child on the spectrum – helping them to get assistance in the areas that don’t come naturally to them or to improve on skills they may already be good at.

And the therapies you engage in are often teaching them using the concepts of neuroplasticity where we can shape the brain with repetitive exposure to specific information and repetitive activities.

Neuroscience is a fascinating topic that I could completely geek out on because I find it amazing how the brain works and how we are able to train ourselves to pretty much do whatever we want.

But here is my question,

Just because we can, does it mean we should?

This is the topic I wanted to discuss with you today.

What areas of your child’s mind ‘should’ you be changing?

Do we need to make a child’s mind like a neurotypical? Is that the goal?

Or are we just trying to help your child to experience a quality of life and help them to learn things that will help them function in life so it can be a quality life?

These questions bring us to a discussion I wanted to take some time to highlight, about neurodiversity.

Neurodiversity is a term that is very common in the autism community and it was coined by sociologist Judy Singer in 1998.

Neurodiversity is the viewpoint that brain differences are normal in groups of people and rather than seeing autism as a deficit, we can instead view their thinking and learning as differences in the brain and brain development.

By seeing a child as neurodivergent instead of disabled, this viewpoint encourages you to accept the child’s autistic characteristics as part of their individuality, like having brown hair or blue eyes.

It is aimed at being able to accept that while an autistic brain is different from a neurotypical brain, that’s not a bad thing and we don’t need to ‘train it out of them’.

By accepting the reality that neurodiversity always occurs in a group of people to some degree and that we are all unique and valuable just the way we are, it can prevent experts, therapists, and even parents from trying to pursue the mission of trying to make their child’s mind into a neurotypical one.

Now, I realise by bringing this topic up, I am stepping on dangerous grounds because it’s a highly controversial subject to talk about and I am certainly no expert in the subject of neurodiversity, and I’m not going to try to be one in this lesson either.

What I will try to do in this lesson though, is to just give you some food for thought.

I want to help you to think about the role that humans play as they interact with one another and to use the 4th upgrade in the reality thinking lenses – I am always worthy – to consider what you actually want to work on in terms of your child’s goals.

The upgrade, I am always worthy, represents all human beings as being valuable just the way they are.

We all have strengths, weaknesses, experience highs and lows, get what we want, don’t get what we want, live, learn, share, grow and evolve.

We do this with the unique brain, personality and character traits that we have, which come from our experiences and our genetics.

We are all unique and automatically contribute to the world around us just be being who we are.

We are not worthy because of what we do. We are worthy because we are here doing it.

It’s your individuality that is so precious to the world, not your abilities.

So with this in mind, we have to consider why we are trying to change certain aspects of your child’s behaviour and make sure that you’re not trying to shape them into something that they are not, because of a limitation that might be happening in your mind (or the therapist who may be trying to do the shaping).

Now I’m not saying either, that certain aspects of your child’s behaviour don’t need assistance and I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be helping children to learn new things or behave differently.

I’m merely encouraging you to explore why you want them to change and the agenda behind the goal.

We need to be person centred about this.

What does the child need to be happy?

Often when parents have a desire for their child to ‘be happy’ they use their beliefs to measure that – their fixed viewpoints on what they think a happy life should look like.

They often think that their life has to meet certain expectations, or they should be having certain experiences in order to reach the goal of a happy life.

We try to get our child’s life ‘right’ by our standards.

Think back to week one where I explained to you the stressful thinking lenses and what gets us caught up in stress - this idea that our child should be living a right life and not a wrong one.

We have ideas about what the right path should look like and get attached to that picture.

We talked about how parents can grieve over their child not living their right life and worry that their life could be going wrong or will go wrong, and the goals for the child can come from this fixed viewpoint of a perceived right life and fear of a wrong one.

But when we look at the upgrades to this way of thinking, we see that all lives have their highs and lows, their good and bad, their ups and downs, no matter who they are, what they do and what sort of brain they have.

And these highs and lows, always have value because of what we are learning, the direction our experiences take us and the most importantly, how we are uniquely contributing to other people around us.

When we are looking through the reality thinking lenses, there is no right life. There is no right brain and there is no right way your child should be living to be more valuable or worthy.

Your child already is valuable and worthy every minute of every day just because he or she exists.

They didn’t have to have a neurotypical brain to do that.

Your child will have unique abilities, talents, thought processes, quirks and behaviours that will teach people and challenge people, just like a neurotypical child would.

Your child’s challenges will help other people learn and grow, as well as help themselves to learn and grow, just like a neurotypical child would.

Your child will have experiences that will lead to highs and lead to lows that will contribute to other people’s highs and lows, just like a neurotypical child would.

It can be hard to watch a child struggle with the challenges that come with autism and it can be easy to fall into your missing out lens as you watch them struggle, but this is where teaching them a healthy mindset comes into play.

It’s not our job to get our child’s life right, or in this case get their life or brains to be ‘normal’.

It’s our job to help them to handle life when it doesn’t go right.

It’s our job to help them see their contribution to life and how valuable they are as a person because of exactly who they are now and that they don’t have to be like other kids to be worthy.

It’s about showing the child evidence of the value of their unique brain and show them evidence of other people who had brains like theirs that were incredibly influential in shaping how the world is today.

It’s our job to help these children to accept that their brain is different and to love their brain and find ways to work around the challenges they face, while embracing the beautiful uniqueness of it.

And that could very well be the focus point you could take on when setting your goals – how do I help my child to work around their challenges while accepting themselves as being worthy just the way they are?

The answer is no different than what I would say to any other parent.

We teach your child that challenges are okay. We all have them in different areas of life so show them evidence of how other people struggle with certain challenges that they have to overcome.

We all need help in certain areas of life.

Show them how you have struggled in an area of your life and received help, maybe in a career, or in finances or in another area of life.

Show them evidence that all brains need to learn new things or need repetition and consistency to get good at something.

Show them that they are already great at things that other people struggle to be good at because it’s natural to them, but not to the other person.

Show them that in their own neurodivergent way, they actually are just like anyone else, because they are human, unique, learning and growing and having a unique journey of life that contributes to those around him/her.

They are just needing help in certain areas to achieve goals that will make life easier.

So, with all that said, I’m not going to tell you what goals to set for your child, what behaviours should be altered and what behaviours need to be left alone.

That is your call.

The reality is you are going to shape your child’s life anyway, whether you’re deliberate about it or not because that’s how a brain learns.

Many people struggle with therapies trying to ‘train their child’, but we’re training all children, aren’t we?

Don’t you train a toddler not to hit a puppy by repeatedly redirecting her and showing her what gentle looks like?

Don’t we train kids to say please and thank you by prompting them over and over and pulling them up when they forget?

Don’t we train our children to believe that we should go to school, get a job, subscribe to a set of social morals and perform certain rituals that align with your culture or religious beliefs?

How many parents have children and then let them have free reign to do whatever they want, whenever they want and have them shape their own pathway in life 100%?

We just don’t do that as parents. We are always training our child to do something.

So. the therapies that are helping to train your child to do certain things aren’t the problem. Perhaps it’s the goals that are the problem.

It’s what you’re training them to do, not how your training them to do it, that could be problematic.

And that’s why I just want you to consider why you are training your child to perform certain activities.

Who’s it for? Who is it benefiting?

And are you doing it for the benefit of your child and their best interests?

And it’s not my job to answer that question for you.

No different to having a conversation about how you should get a baby into sleep routine – do we use controlled crying, or do we use attachment parenting techniques?

Or do we even need to put a baby in a sleep routine, or do we need to let them find their own routine?

How far do we go with teaching a toddler to ‘obey the rules’ versus letting them be a free spirit?

When a child becomes a teenager, do we give them more free reign so they can learn from their mistakes or do we keep them on a tight leash so we can make sure they don’t do stupid stuff?

These are questions that are going to have a variety of answers depending on what your beliefs are, what your experiences of life was growing up and throughout your life and what your values are.

It will also depend on your culture, your religious beliefs and other beliefs that have shaped your parenting opinion.

So just like any parent, you will have decisions to make as to how you want to approach the challenges your child faces by having these unique autistic traits.

I just invite you to consider what the agenda is behind what you’re trying to get your child to learn – is it to help them to enjoy their life more, or is it to make other people feel more comfortable or to try and fit them into some stereotypical norm?

It’s food for thought and will be very personal for you and your family to decide upon.

How To Put Today’s Lesson Into Practice

Certain therapies will encourage you to try and train your child out of their autistic traits, but it’s up to you to consider what actually needs work and what doesn’t.

It’s up to you to make sure the goals for your child are centred around their needs and keeps their individuality intact with the agenda to give them a quality and happy life where they feel good about who they are and their unique contribution to the world.

Yes, you want them to learn skills that are going to make their life easy and give them a quality of existence, but you also have to make sure that it’s their version of easy and quality, not a neurotypical, stereotypical version of what we think they should be experiencing.

It’s a challenging juggle but keep this at the forefront of your mind when setting goals for therapies and you’ll be fine.

So, take some time today, to think about the goals you’ve set from this week’s video and consider if they are coming from a place of acceptance of their neurodivergent brain.

In tomorrow’s lesson we will be finishing off the week by discussing how to choose the goals you want to begin working on from the Aim Step of the Mind TRACK to Happiness Process.