Are we enabling our children?

words5Am I Enabling My Child with Autism or Pushing Too Much?
By Connie

“You are enabling your daughter too much. You need to be tough with her even though she has autism.”
“You can’t expect your autistic son to learn how to do that!”
Have you ever heard statements such as these? Do they make you question your parenting?
enabling or pushy?I know you want to be confident that you are doing your best as a parent. Sometimes confidence can be difficult to maintain when your well intentioned friends and relatives judge you to be too demanding or too enabling where your child is concerned. Their declarations and suggestions come from the non-autistic world – a perspective that has limited knowledge of raising a child with autism and therefore is difficult to accept. Your job is to help educate them otherwise but that takes time and parents of children with special needs don’t have much of that.
As a parent of child on the autism spectrum I know you are focused on finding your way through an unpredictable maze, learning as you go. Finding the right balance between enabling or pushing too much is a challenge.
A good parent is always examining his or her skills and evaluating them for effectiveness while being open to make adjustments along the way. Getting stuck in a pattern that might be a bit too enabling is easy to fall into and difficult to get out of at times. Avoiding a dilemma such as this requires being open minded and receptive to creating new ways of relating to your child.
With this in mind, I always encourage parents to keep the end goal in sight because it will help you stay on the most direct path to your child’s best future.
Leave the word autism out and occasionally ask yourself:
What type of person do I want my daughter to be?
What type of skills and values do I want my son to have as an adult?
And the most important question of all,
Is what I am doing right now helping my child become the type of person I would like him or her to be as an adult?
If the aim is to have an independent individual blossom, have the courage to ask yourself if you are enabling your child too much and keeping her dependent? Yes, sometimes it is easier and quicker to do things yourself but it may be robbing your child of learning and mastering a crucial daily living skill. A child who is not able to care for herself adequately is one thing but being able to and having someone else do it for her is another.
How much you enable your child or encourage him to do things for himself will depend on where he is on the autism spectrum. The one thing that will differ from child to child is the starting point. But wherever you begin from, you should always be moving your child forward towards the goal. Sometimes all your child can manage is baby steps and other days she may even regress backwards but the question should always be,
How have I moved my child towards her potential today?
Every parent wants their child to reach for the stars and grab the ones they can and parents of children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder are no different. Just how enabling do you need to be in order to help your child grab the stars that are within reach? How forceful do you need to be in order for your child to stretch a bit further to grab for more? For any child to accomplish all he is capable of and more, finding just the right balance between not enough pressure and too much is extremely important.
Finding the best way to motivate your child without unknowingly enabling or discouraging her can be tricky. Just as Goldilocks did, every parent needs to find a method that is “not too easy, not too tough, but just right” for each child.
How does a parent find just the right touch between enabling and pushing? Here are six strategies to keep in mind for discovering just what your child needs to blossom.
Take baby steps – Pacing one’s self and finding a rhythm are the first things to remember when knowing just how much to push or not. Breaking things down into small and attainable steps is always wise. If you want your child with autism to become more social, then gradually expose him or her to small chunks of time in a social setting. Start with five minutes, and then add one or two minutes more after each success.
Motivate your child internally. On of the best indicators of success is how self-motivated a person is. Unfortunately, parents sometimes spend too much time trying to get their children to comply with the use of external rewards. To help your child acquire a way to self-motivate, it is always better to focus on using praise – and praise for effort more than you do on outcome. The sooner a child gets a sense that they have power and control over their own learning by the amount of effort they put into it, the less likely you will have to prod them along.
Tap into interests – Always try to tie in one of your child’s favorite activities or pastimes into the experience when you are gently nudging her towards a goal. This will help stimulate her internal motivation to stretch herself as much as possible. When your goal is to reduce a repetitive behavior, distracting your child with an activity she really favors is helpful.
Watch for signs of stress or success – Always be on the alert for signals of distress and have a plan B on hand that is ready to put in place. Stress is counterproductive to progress. It can easily lure your child on the autism spectrum into a state of frustration and anxiety. This can lead to a negative experience making it unlikely that your child will want to pick up again where she left off. On the other hand, if you see success, celebrate it!
Create enjoyment – Who doesn’t like fun? Find a way to keep things light and humorous. Not only will your child delight in the process more but the contagious nature of laughter will spread throughout your child. This will help create a positive and powerful energy that is bound to increase his stamina towards his goal.
Make adjustments as needed – Paying attention to your child’s ability to transition is important here. When you know an adjustment has to be made begin shifting gears as gently as possible considering what you know about your child’s tolerance for change. The skill and finesse at which you make this happen will directly correlate to paving the way to success.
No parent wants to be told they are enabling their child too much – that’s for you to decide. Ask yourself and listen honestly to your answer. Then evaluate your parenting and the goals you have for your child on a regular basis. This will help you maintain just the right balance for motivating your child in the best direction. Then step back and watch her blossom!