Sonny is a 3-year-old with autism spectrum disorder. For the most part, as displayed at home with family members, he is non-verbal. If he’s hungry, overwhelmed, or requesting a toy or comfort item, he throws massive temper tantrums that can take up to a couple hours to de-escalate. He isn’t potty-training yet. When he experiences accidents, he struggles with self-advocating and cries softly in the bathroom rather than immediately asking for help. He seems to prefer to play on his own, and when other kids his age interact with him, it usually ends in tears after Sonny hits them. Sonny has been declined by several daycare centers due to his behaviors, forcing his mother to give up her teaching job to stay at home and care for him full-time.
Sound familiar to any of our parents out there? Interpreting a child’s needs and intentions can be complicated, but it’s a rubik’s cube when you factor in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Fortunately, parents and caregivers are not alone and there are resources available for kiddos starting at a very young age. In this blog, we are going to discuss what early intervention therapy services can offer children with ASD, specifically when it comes to building confidence and associated behavioral skills.
What are the stages toward building confidence in a child in these types of therapy sessions?
Building confidence during the early years of childhood is essential for future success in relationships, school, work, and extracurricular activities. Confidence lays the foundation for how the child healthily perceives themselves and fully interacts with others on a daily basis.
What can a parent expect 10 sessions in?
Early intervention services for autism, depending on the developmental skills you are targeting, can be performed by a single or several therapists: occupational, speech, etc. Oftentimes, sessions take place within the child’s home or can take place at an early intervention facility if appropriate. After about 10 sessions, parents may start noticing improvements pertaining to confidence in the following areas:
- stronger, more resilient and confident child
Little by little, your child is going to be able to tackle harder tasks that are appropriate for their age. This may include play-related tasks, social opportunities, problem-solving activities, and so on. When they lose a game, or don’t make it to the potty on time (like Sonny), or struggle with interpreting another child’s emotions, they get back up and try again.
- improved communication
Now, since early intervention is designed for infants and toddlers, parents shouldn’t expect their children to be making speeches by the time they reach kindergarten. Improved communication may be by non-verbal means demonstrated by healthy, positive behavioral responses. In Sonny’s case, he could learn to gesture or point to things that he needs rather than tantrum or scream to get what he wants.
- increased engagement
Oftentimes, children with autism will look like they want to play alone. “Want” is a very strong word and it’s dangerous to assume that this is what children would like to do during playtime. Rather, these kiddos often struggle with engaging in tasks and with others. After early intervention, parents may notice an improvement in this area, including better eye contact with others, increased attention to tasks, enhanced interest in others and new activities, and so on.
- improved behavior
Because their confidence, resilience, and engagement improves, parents may notice a decrease in poor behaviors and an uptick in positive behaviors. This paves the way for the child to participate in more tasks that are challenging and new, adding to their success and fueling their self-esteem as they get older.
With improved confidence and positive behaviors outnumbering negative behaviors, this allows for the child to socialize with others including family and friends in a productive way. Additionally, that confidence and improved behavior is attractive and can draw in new friends their age to increase social opportunities.
- increased cognitive function
Through age-appropriate problem-solving and play tasks, early intervention therapy for autism can increase cognitive skills including: reasoning, decision-making, organization, and emotional regulation. Overall, these skills cement confidence, positive behavior, and social participation. For Sonny, this may include helping him successfully problem-solve through difficult social situations at daycare or other unfamiliar environments.
Building a child’s confidence
Parents and caregivers are a huge driving force behind building a child’s self-confidence, especially if autism needs to be factored in. Early intervention for autism is only as effective as what the parents carry out at home on a regular basis. During early intervention sessions, parents and caregivers can expect a few takeaway tools and resources to be implemented at home:
- Positive reinforcement
Avoid harsh criticism when the child is not successful and praise the child for even the smallest achievements towards their self-confidence goals. This includes expressing themselves, asking for help when needed, interacting or playing with a new friend, making eye contact, and behaving appropriately when things go wrong.
- Promoting positive self-image
Help your child gain confidence in themselves by reminding themselves about how amazing they are. This includes complimenting them in regards to their strengths, but also teaching them how to compliment and how to love themselves. An example includes saying, writing, or parroting one or several nice things they love about themselves (especially on days when they question their self-worth).
- Increasing opportunities for social interaction
Allow opportunities for your child to interact with children their age: playground visits, scheduled playdates, time with extended family, community playgroups, etc. To improve communication and social participation, a child needs the chance to practice. This will include both successes and failures, but the benefits outweigh the risks with time.
- Supporting self-paced learning
Don’t operate the self-confidence development clock on your schedule. Make sure you are conducting education and skills development according to your child’s pace and comfort level. Like physical exercise, you should expect some muscle soreness but sharp pain usually indicates that too much is being done too quickly. The same goes for your child when it comes to building confidence. For example, if your child is not ready for in-person social interaction with new people, start with social stories or practicing with family members and go from there.
Confidence is detrimental to a child’s development that leads to success throughout the years to come. Parents and caregivers of young kiddos with autism are not alone and can seek help early to help them reach their goals. Check out The Therapy Place online to see if our services can help your child with autism (or any child!) develop and succeed. https://www.therapyplacenj.com/
All about Occupational & Speech Therapy within the ASD community: https://youtu.be/kWNk9QldsG0