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Autism Life Skills: 10 Essential Abilities for Children with ASD (page 2)

By — Autism Society
Updated on May 5, 2014

Communication

The ability to communicate was the second most important area of need cited by adults. All people need a form of communication to express their needs, in order to have them met. If a child does not have an appropriate communication system, he or she will learn to communicate through behavior (screaming or throwing a tantrum in order to express pain or frustration), which may not be appropriate, but can be effective. Sue Rubin, writer and star of the documentary “Autism is a World,” is a non-verbal autistic college student and disability advocate. She often speaks about the impact of communication on behavior. She shares that as she learned to type she was able to explain to others what was causing her behaviors and to get help in those areas. In high school, typing allowed her to write her own social stories and develop her own behavior plans. As her communication skills increased, her inappropriate behaviors decreased.

Those with Asperger’s and others on the more functionally able end of the spectrum may have more subtle communication challenges, but these are just as important for surviving in a neurotypical world. Many tend to have trouble reading body language and understanding implied meanings and metaphors, which can lead to frustration and misunderstanding. Michael Crouch, the college postmaster at the Crown College of the Bible in Tennessee, credits girls with helping him develop good communication skills. Some of his areas of difficulty were speaking too fast or too slow, stuttering and poor eye contact. When he was a teenager, five girls at his church encouraged him to join the choir and this experience helped him overcome some of his difficulties. Having a group of neuro-typical peers who shared his interests and provided opportunities for modeling and practicing good communication skills helped Michael become the accomplished speaker he is today.

Safety

Many on the spectrum had strong feelings about the issue of safety. Many remember not having a notion of safety when little, and putting themselves in unsafe situations due to sensory processing challenges. These challenges prevented them from feeling when something was too hot or too cold, if an object was very sharp or from “seeing” that it was too far to jump from the top of a jungle gym to the ground below.

Many adults described feeling terrified during their student years, and shared the fervent hope that with all the resources and knowledge we now have today’s students would not suffer as they had. Practically all recounted instances of being bullied. Some said they had been sexually or physically abused, though some did not even realize it at the time. Others described how their teacher’s behaviors contributed directly or indirectly to being bullied. For example, Michael John Carley, Executive Director of GRASP and author of Asperger’s From the Inside Out, recalls how his teachers made jokes directed at him during class, which encouraged peer disrespect and led to verbal bullying outside the classroom.

A school environment that strictly enforced a no-tolerance bullying policy would have been extremely helpful, according to these adults. Sensitizing other students as to what autism is, teaching the child on the spectrum about abusive behavior, and providing him/her with a safe place and safe person to go to at school would have helped as well. Teaching them the “hidden curriculum,” so they could have understood what everyone else picked up by osmosis would have given them a greater understanding of the social world and made them less easy prey.

Self-Esteem

Confidence in one’s abilities is a necessary precursor to a happy adult life. It is clear that those who appear self-confident and have good self-esteem tend to have had a few things in common while growing up. Th e most important factor was parents or caretakers who were accepting of their child, yet expected them to reach their potential and sought out ways to help them. Kamran Nazeer, author of Send in the Idiots: Stories from the Other Side of Autism, explains that having a relationship with an adult who was more neutral and not as emotionally involved as a parent is important as well. Parents naturally display a sense of expectations, while a teacher, mentor or therapist can be supportive of a child and accepting of his/her behavioral and social challenges. Relationships with neuro-typical peers, as well as autistic peers who share the same challenges were also important to developing confidence.

Pursuing Interests

This is an area that many people on the spectrum are passionate about. For many, activities are purpose driven or interest driven, and the notion of doing something just because it feels good, passes the time of day or makes you happy is not an obvious one. Zosia Zaks, author of Life and Love: Positive Strategies for Autistic Adults, told me that, as a child, she had no idea that she was supposed to be “having fun”—that there were activities that people participated in just for fun. It was one of those things about neurotypical living that no one ever explained to her.

As students, some of these adults were discouraged from following their obsessive (positive translation: passionate) interest. Others were encouraged by parents and teachers who understood the value of using their interest to help them learn or develop a job skill. For example, when he was little, author and advocate Stephen Shore used to take apart and put together his timepieces. Years later, this interest was translated into paid work repairing bicycles at a bike store.

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