How to Raise Confident Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Interview with Dr. Brooks about how to raise confident children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). The shock of a child receiving an ASD diagnosis can throw any parent into a tailspin. I had a chance to interview Dr. Robert Brooks, Ph.D. on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and staff of McLean Hospital, about strategies parents can use to overcome the initial “now what?” phase and some methods that can be effective toward helping children with autism spectrum disorders become confident.

Dr. Brooks is a co-author of Raising Resilient Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Lisa LaGrou of Oakland County Moms – You stress the importance of early intervention in regards to children with ASDs. What do you feel are the most important “first steps” parents need to take after an ASD diagnosis?

Dr. Robert Brooks, co-author of Raising Resilient Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders – I think that if parents have any concerns about their child’s development they should discuss these concerns with their child’s pediatrician. While all children develop at different rates in different areas (e.g., language skills, fine and gross motor skills, social skills), if a child’s development is noticeably behind his/her peers a more comprehensive evaluation should be sought. The evaluation is best accomplished with a team of developmental professionals including a psychologist/neuropsychologist, a speech and language specialist, an occupational therapist, and others as indicated depending on the age of the child. The earlier that children receive services, the better their opportunity to develop those skills that are lagging.

Lisa LaGrou of Oakland County Moms – You discuss a “team approach” in regards to parents, teachers and specialists. What are some ways that parents can make sure that caregivers and teachers are actively involved with helping a child with an autism spectrum disorder?

Dr. Robert Brooks, co-author of Raising Resilient Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders – Although it may seem very obvious, when all adults involved with the child are collaborating, the more effective and consistent the services will be. I believe that regularly scheduled face-to-face meetings in which parents and professionals can review the effectiveness of interventions and make changes when indicated will be of great benefit for the child. Also, parents and professionals who respect each other can continue to share information and ideas that will assist in implementing new strategies.

Lisa LaGrou of Oakland County Moms – What are some ways to promote confidence in a child with an ASD?

Dr. Robert Brooks, co-author of Raising Resilient Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders – Our book is based on a strength-based approach. We emphasize the importance of not just focusing on the child’s deficits or vulnerabilities, but also identifying and reinforcing the child’s strengths or what we call the child’s “islands of competence.” In our book we offer examples of using a child’s strengths and interests to develop interventions that will nurture their sense of confidence and their resilience. For example, a boy’s preoccupation/obsession with baseball statistics was used by his father as a way of relating to his son. The father bought baseball cards, talked with his son about different baseball players and their feelings, and brought his son to baseball games as a way of relating to him. The parents of a girl with ASD who perseverated on her interest with movie stars used this interest to develop a “feelings game” in which the girl and parents had to make up stories in response to movie star photos.  The game involved describing why the movie star felt the way he/she looked in the photo. This was a way of teaching the child about one’s emotional reactions in different situations.

Lisa LaGrou of Oakland County Moms – Many times a parent doesn’t know exactly where to turn upon first hearing of an ASD diagnosis. What are some ways parents can overcome their initial shock and confusion?

Dr. Robert Brooks, co-author of Raising Resilient Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders – I believe that the saying “knowledge is power” is very applicable when parents learn that their child has a diagnosis of ASD. We must remember that children with this diagnosis may vary greatly from each other so that it is imperative that parents strive to understand their child’s unique weaknesses and strengths. Knowledge brings with it more realistic expectations, hopes, and strategies.  In addition, support groups with other parents of children with ASD can be very helpful as are blogs written by parents of children with ASD. Parents must also remember that while they did not cause ASD in their child (incredibly, years ago parents were “blamed” for their child’s autism), they do have the power to work closely with professionals and obtain the best possible services for their child.

Click here for more info about Dr. Brooks and Raising Resilient Children.

ABOUT Robert Brooks, Ph.D.:
Robert Brooks, Ph.D., a psychologist on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and a consultant at McLean Hospital, has lectured nationally and internationally and written extensively about the themes of resilience, parenting, family relationships, children with special needs, and the school and work environment.  He is the author or co-author of 15 books including Raising Resilient Children; Raising Resilient Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders; and The Power of Resilience: Achieving Balance, Confidence, and Personal Strength in Your Life.

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