Monday, July 25, 2011

Measuring Milestones As a Parent of a Child With Autism

Do you remember not getting what you had your heart set on when you were a child? Maybe it was a special birthday gift, or that trip to the zoo, or that new skateboard you coveted. That was childhood but now as adults we are more mature in how we deal with disappointment, or are we?

We are wise enough to know that not everything is within our grasp and there are some things that will elude us despite our financial means. Parenthood, for one, is a roll of the dice from the very beginning. There are those of us who struggle to bring a child into this world and those of us who easily procreate. Some parents may be briefly disappointed about the gender of their child but all are grateful for the birth of a healthy son or daughter.

Despite this appreciation for a son or a daughter that has all ten fingers and ten toes, some of us secretly wish for more. As our children begin to develop, we anxiously anticipate the typical childhood milestones of smiling, crawling, walking and talking and can't wait to share these moments with others. We all would like our children to be timely in achieving these developmental highlights and when they lag behind the norm, it can be difficult to accept.

As a parent of a child with Autism it is difficult not to want for more or feel defensive when other parents are asking questions and drawing comparisons about each other's children. "When did your child sit up?" "My child is counting to 20." "What was your son's first word?" "My Sally can say, "please" in French."

Innocent interrogations or comments such as these can be very unnerving. Proud parents want to share and don't intend to be irritating but many don't realize what it is like to be on the receiving end of this conversation, especially when your child has a different set of challenges to overcome. Every child's path to growth is different and unique and to measure everyone by the same yardstick is counterproductive.

Tuning out the accomplishments of other children can be difficult yet it is extremely important to stay focused on your child and trust that with your help he will realize his full potential of who he is meant to be. Paying attention to the mini-milestones may help you recognize progress more readily and guide you to identify better ways of assisting your child in reaching the bigger milestones. Here are some things to keep in mind.

What you pay attention to grows. What you choose to concentrate on will take precedence in your life. If you focus on what is not working, what is not working will continue NOT to work. If your child is still non-verbal at the age of four, all the worrying in the world will not give her voice but once you shift your focus onto all the other ways your child communicates amazing things will begin to occur. Noticing and responding to her non-verbal language will encourage more of it to blossom and reinforce those productive behaviors to continue.

Little milestones lead to bigger ones. Many great accomplishments have been achieved in baby steps. Progress has to start somewhere and it usually starts small. Don't negate the tiny bits of progress your child makes because it forms the foundation for bigger steps to be taken. Focus on one behavior, look for tiny signs of progress and celebrate. If you need help staying focused, write down each little step for a visual record that confirms growth.

Positive feedback creates a clear path. The type of feedback you give your child will impact their ability to take the next step. Oftentimes children don't know how to cross the stream that lies between them and a goal. Each time you give your child positive and specific feedback it will be as if you are laying down a steppingstone for them to get to the other side. Don't ever forget the powerful guidance your words and actions can have!

Understand the impact of the environment. As you notice each tiny action your child takes towards a goal, examine the environment that surrounds him and evaluate if it is conducive to his success or if it is constricting it? This information will allow you to make small adjustments to the environment that will make it easier for your child to continue to move forward.

Little things mean more than you know. Don't discount the little things that happen every day. Sometimes they are so small and you think insignificant that you easily miss them. Try using a magnifying glass and play detective for a day. Take the time to consciously examine the little things and how they relate to the bigger picture - you will be surprised at what you find. Taking notice of even the tiniest of accomplishments can have a powerful impact on any child's progress as they struggle to realize the full potential of who they are meant to be.

Look beyond developmental milestones. All parents want their children to achieve the major milestones of life but making comparisons to other children or accepting the judgment or comments of others will only serve to keep you and your child stagnant. Each child has a special gift to offer the universe and each gift is different. Instead of spending your time lamenting the milestones your child has not reached, spend your time uncovering the special gift your child has to offer.

Connie Hammer, MSW, parent educator, consultant and coach, guides parents of young children recently diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder to uncover abilities and change possibilities. Visit her website to get your FREE resources - a parenting ecourse, Parenting a Child with Autism - 3 Secrets to Thrive and a weekly parenting tip newsletter, The Spectrum.

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