Research Paper By Sue Simmons
(Life Coaching & Family Coach, CANADA)
Despite years of increased awareness, advocacy and funding, people with ASD are still marginalized in our society. Less than 12% obtain any kind of jobs, and less than 5% live independently. Real friendships are rare, and marriages almost non-existent. After 30 years our basic approaches to people with ASD have remained unchanged – despite incontrovertible proof that the great majority of people diagnosed with the condition have normal potential.
Having a child with ASD is incredibly challenging. Most of us know at least one family affected by autism. I’ve experienced it firsthand. My son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at the age of 5. The years leading up to, and immediately following his diagnosis, were the darkest days of my life. As a woman and Mom, I suffered terribly. The impact on my entire family was immense and pervasive.
It’s near impossible to parent a child on the spectrum as you would a typical child. This is a result of the child’s neural makeup, and the ensuing “gaps” in his or her development. Challenges in information processing, sensory and other difficulties cause individuals to struggle with anxiety and “fight or flight” reactions on an ongoing basis.
In general terms, the following challenges emerge between parent and child:
- The emotional “dance” that occurs between parent and child is most often out of step; neither can judge the other’s emotional state and adjust, from moment to moment. As a result of the loss of this essential early partnership, parents mistrust their own instincts, and as a result, begin to question their capacity as parents. Children with ASD retreat into safe but “static” worlds. They avoid everyday challenges, novel problems and situations that enable typically developing children to become competent, expert problem solvers and communicators in the real world. Frustration, anger and a host of other emotions build, and unhealthy patterns develop as both parents and child attempt to cope.
- The child often has difficulty borrowing the parents’ perspective. Parents question why the child “can’t” or “won’t” respond suitably, and question their child’s attitude, and lack of ability to “behave” appropriately.
- Children with ASD miss out on hundreds of tiny “fail and grow” opportunities. Therefore, they do not possess or build the resilience that their typical peers do. This often leads to meltdowns and other related challenges. Sadly, these children have a disproportionate number of memories related to failure. In order to avoid uncertainty, they become even more resistant to novel experiences and opportunities for growth.
Parents feel chronically helpless and frustrated. They often believe they have failed, although their predicament likely has little to do with them as parents. The best-read, most patient and resourceful parents would likely be little further ahead.
However, this need not be the case with effective intervention, parent willingness and skilled support. Research is beginning to support the efficacy of parent involvement in ASD treatments, demonstrating that these challenges can slowly be remediated. In this article, I will outline the process of rebuilding a healthy parent-child relationship. It is through establishing this critical early partnership between parents and child, that the door to furthering a child’s cognitive development exists. Essential coaching skills, critical knowledge in child development and brain neuroplasticity, and personal experience as a parent of an ASD child make this a reality.
Why and how ASD Coaching is beneficial for parents:
Parents benefit tremendously from ASD Coaching. Here are just some of the positive ramifications:
- As I know first hand, parents of ASD children suffer to the core. ASD prevents them from experiencing a great deal of the joy of parenting, and presents challenges that are near impossible to address at the source. Even if the parents seek “therapy” for their child which successfully addresses issues, parents are most often left out of the equation. Said differently, therapy targeting the child fails to address the parent/child dynamic, which is directly impacted by ASD. Parent coaching gets to the heart of these challenges, and systematically re-establishes a more typical and appropriate parent-child relationship.
- Parent coaching gradually gives Moms and Dads the knowledge and tools they must have in order to feel that they can 1) manage difficult situations, and 2) support and guide their child’s development. Parent coaching also enables couples to feel a sense of purpose as a team, and supports them as individuals to pursue interests and goals that help them achieve balance in their lives.
- It goes without saying that most parents are in a committed, long-term relationship with their child, and love their child beyond measure. They spend a great deal of time with their child, and have a vested interested in applying time and resources to bring about the best possible outcome for him or her.
- Imparting these skills upon parents enables them to develop and manage healthy relationships with all of their children. Many of the skills taught are not just suited for their ASD child, but espouse positive parenting ideals that benefit all children.
- Through parent ASD coaching, over time an ASD child’s development can improve dramatically, enabling growth in the areas of cognitive, social and emotional realms. This process has the capacity to put the child’s development “back on track.” The outcome can literally give the child opportunities to experience life as it was intended to be. It has been proven that children who undergo this process are able to function more successfully in educational settings, require less intensive support and demonstrate the capacity for friendships and productive social interaction.