As all parents know, our kids go through phases of LOVING some (insert name of game, toy, show, activity here), to never looking at it again. It can be the bane of our existence to try and keep up with whatever they feel the “cool” thing of the moment is.
Now, let’s imagine you have a child on the autistic spectrum. Just like a neurotypical child, you will be introduced to a plethora of things that interest them (and often make no sense to you). As I raise my kids, special needs and neurotypical side-by-side, I see some differences in how their interests play out.
Where neurotypical kids go through “phases”, special needs kids will often take those interests and hold onto them for the long haul. In some cases, this will be great. A music buff who knows every detail of The Beatles discography, personal histories and political views can actually make for very interesting conversation with people outside of their inner circle. They can apply this interest to social settings, and it will help them integrate into different situations.
The perfect knowledge of Pokemon, with all their strengths, abilities and evolutions is a bit more limiting. For example, it may be very cool to know that Eevee has 8 different evolutions (Vaporeon, Jolteon, Flareon, Umbreon, Leafeon, Sylveon and Glaceon.. don’t ask!), but that information is not as easy to apply to a potential future career, or to help them become competent adults (or competent at “adulting”, as my kids will say).
As parents of special needs children, what is our ultimate goal in helping them nurture these interests?
Do we help guide their special interests?
As I write this, I don’t even like the way it sounds “to guide their special interests”. Sounds a bit controlling, no? As parents of special needs kids we are able to clearly see that, no matter their ability or where they fall on the special needs spectrum, our kids all have such distinct characters and interests. Music or dance may light up their souls. Building blocks or numbers may spark creativity beyond OUR wildest imaginations. Colours, art and textures may bring calm and peace to a world that is loud, confusing and, sometimes, frightening. Each of these interests can be what guides US to help them navigate this loud, confusing and, sometimes, frightening world.
Helping them learn necessary skills with their special interests as a guide
Here are a few helpful tips for harnessing the magic of your child’s interests to help them learn valuable life skills that will serve them well down the road:
1. Choose an area/skill to focus on (for example: Personal hygiene).
2. Use examples of people, characters or situations associated with their special interest to help your child see the practical application of the skill that you’re trying to teach them. For this part, you will need to learn details about the interest so you can truly speak your child’s “language”. (Vaporeon is a Pokemon who can freely control water. While bathing them - or encouraging them to bathe/shower - let them use the idea of Vaporeon to have a bit of fun!)
3. Consistency is key. Whether you’re speaking about your special needs or neurotypical kids, consistency is the magic key. Make working on the focus area or skill a daily thing. Creativity will help, but by using their special interest as your guide, you will automatically have a pool of ideas to get started. What is your child’s special interest? What skill do you want to focus on with them? I would love to hear from you. Brainstorming ideas with those around you can be a big help! Leave a comment below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Chaviva Lifson
Chaviva Lifson is a mom to 3 amazing kids, that are growing up far too quickly. She is the creator of PuttingMomFirst.com, a website that helps remind moms that they have to take care of themselves if they want to be of any use to the ones they love. She is also a giver of hugs.