There is a fine line between challenging your ASD child and pushing them too hard. I know. I have crossed that line quite a few times over the years. But it is important to keep challenging your kids and giving them the chance to try things and have new experiences. You never quite know what they’ll be able to achieve unless you give them a chance.
What do I mean by challenge? I don’t mean throwing them in the deep end at the local pool to see if they’ll sink or swim. That approach is not appropriate and will not yield success. What I do mean, is identifying an area of development, such as personal hygiene or diet, and looking at small ways you can improve your child’s experience.
Recently we have been challenging Gilbert with new foods. This is the biggest battleground for us, the area where we have made the least ground over the years. We’ve been able to transition him to a mainstream classroom, we’ve been able to help him accept moves to new houses, we’ve been able to develop his self-help skills and we’ve even encouraged him to enjoy an overseas holiday.
But success in trying new food and expanding his limited diet has so far eluded us.
In this latest attempt, we’ve started off with small steps. First, we talked about the food that he needs to eat to be healthy and strong. He is obsessed by old age and fancies himself a chance at beating the oldest person alive record. We’ve explained that if he wants to live until 123, he needs to feed his body the right foods to stay healthy.
Second, we have modelled ourselves enjoying a variety of foods so he can see the positives in trying new food. We are now eating together as a family again at dinner after making a small breakthrough in New Zealand when Gilbert wanted to try some steak after seeing us enjoy some. He actually liked it and has had it again since we have come back home. It was a significant step forward for him and for us.
Third, we have made trying new foods part of our dinner routine. Gilbert is encouraged to look at what we are offering him; smell it, touch it and then taste it. He has come a long way from just touching new food with the tip of his tongue and then dismissing it without a true tasting. He has also come a long way from those times he immediately melted down the minute he spotted something new on his plate
It is slow and steady going, but we are hoping to see real and lasting improvement by entrenching this into our routine and making it a normal part of life.
So, given our experience so far, my tips for successfully challenging your ASD child are:
1. Only attempt one challenge at a time. Do not overload your child with challenges as it will only end in meltdowns and stress. For instance, if you want to tackle toileting and diet, choose the one that is most pressing and leave the other for a little while.
2. Try to minimise other stressors in your child’s life. We have only now decided to tackle Gilbert’s diet after the stress of transitioning to a new school, the stress of moving house and the stress of going on our first overseas holiday as a family. Only now, 5 months on from our move, do we feel that he is ready to accept our challenge to his diet.
3. Don’t give up if things don’t go to plan. If it seems all too much, pull back and reassess your approach. You may need to wait a little longer before trying again or you may be able to identify a source of anxiety or stress that needs to be addressed first. But don’t give up altogether at the first sign of resistance.
Have you had a positive experience challenging your child? Do you have any further tips to share?