At our Autism Clinic, we follow a methodology that believes in relationship first.
Why do you become friends with someone? Really, think about it. Picture your close friends. Why do you want to be around them?
More than likely you are attracted to your friends because you share something in common, they are kind to you, and you feel good when you are around them.
Now think about someone that you have had in your life that you are not friends with. Maybe you originally thought you could be friends. Maybe a mutual friend introduced you to this person. But there is a reason why you don't "click". It could be there is nothing in common, different belief systems, etc. Maybe they make you feel uncomfortable. Inevitably, when you are around this person you are not at your best because the connection isn't there.
Common sense tells us that we would rather be surrounded by our friends versus those that we do not have a relationship with. This same principle holds true with our children who have autism.
When we want so desperately to see changes and growth in our children we often add anxiety and stress to our times with them. Imagine you are playing with your child and you want them to try a game with you. You get excited. You show them the game. You start telling them all about it. (this could be as simple as trying to get them to sing with you or copy sounds) You notice that your child isn't looking at you. Maybe they seem uninterested. They may look away, choose another toy, start flipping pages in their book, line up there blocks, making silly sounds, etc. You may feel defeated. You wanted them to play your game with you. Now your mind wonders to the things your child "isn't doing". Your energy drops. Your child stays withdrawn.
Let's take this same goal: to play a game with your child. You go to play with them. You are smiling and excited. You noticed your child is flipping pages in their book and reciting a line from Blues Clues. They are not looking at you. You notice that they seem happy with their book and talking about their show. You take a book from the table and sit across the room from your child. You start flipping pages too and quietly talk about Blues Clues too. Your child notices. They glance your way. They come over to look at your book. They sit with you and you get to show them the pages. They are still reciting Blues Clues while sitting with you. You take paper and draw blue or the clue book. Your child is delighted. They want you to draw more. Guess what? you are playing a game with your child.
Throughout my years of training and education I have learned so much about autism and social development. I have used the things I have learned with my own son and watched the changes over time. The best thing I ever learned was to be the kind of friend my child needed at any time. Building a relationship with him didn't come from being his mom, it came from time after time earning his trust by being what he needed. Each time I played with him I had to check in with myself and make sure I was giving the right attitude, being user friendly, having an open mind, and allowing him to share with me the things he loved and enjoyed. That's what being a friend truly is.
My family often tells me to "stay away" from my son when I am really sad or anxious. They know that he will feed off of my emotions. This is another reason why I need to let go and be present when playing with one of our clients or my own child. It is important that they feel a relaxed and loving energy from me. This makes it easier for them to open up to me socially and continue building our relationship.
Next time you are playing with your special child, ask yourself, Am I being user friendly? What is my energy like? What kind of attitude am I giving? Would I want to hang out with someone like me right now?
Have fun and enjoy playing!
Love your journey always,