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Translate Autism: Making The Disorder A Gift Not A Curse

Translate Autism: Making The Disorder A Gift Not A Curse

Recognize the Challenge

It was the night of the 4th of November, and a child was born. The boy was seemingly healthy at birth. 2 years later, the boy’s father was given the possible diagnosis, and his unbelief became denial. Common belief was that his son was autistic. One year later, this question haunted the boy’s father, “What is perfect about autism?” He, like many fathers, didn’t know how to translate autism into a positive thing at all, so he imagined himself to be wrong in his thinking. “Who would ask such an insensitive question?” he would ponder.

Today, being much different, I gladly admit that I am the man who initiated that question, and I am the father of an autistic son, named Malik. When that question “What’s perfect about autism?”…arose in my mind concerning his diagnosis, and “…only a monster could ask something so cruel.”

Depression instantly took hold, and I pushed the idea into the dark quarters of my mind. Simultaneously, I blocked out the sickening thought whenever it came to light. I was broken, and consumed by the mental wars in which I was entrenched.

Once the denial subsided and I recognized the issue, these selfish questions took hold in my mind, “Why my family? Why me?” Initially at least, I was bitter, disbelieving, and disgruntled over the cards dealt to my young son, but ironically, the haunting question that I had first hated: “What is perfect about autism?”, drove me to find its answer. A challenge that communication, which is the foundation of the answer, taught in this article.

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Cultivation, and the controversial practice that I call “Clipping the Wings of the Disorderly”, both being explained in full detail at a later date, brought the answer. Like weavers, they intertwined my unraveling family together.

Accepting Autism

The ability to recognize something and having the ability to accept it are two very different abilities. I recognized that my son is autistic. The first time the actual words came out of my mouth, I wept bitterly. Today, voicing that reality since having accepted the truth, brings me peace of mind. This fact empowered me to look at the challenge with a better attitude. Autism, while affecting individuals in different ways, is actually a communication disorder.

My entire life, I had always equated autism to mental retardation and low I.Q. To be clear, I was very wrong in that assumption. In fact, most autistic cases don’t affect intelligence whatsoever. This realization was the most eye opening, or at least I thought it was.

That realization brought another, and I began to realize why I really did not want my son to be autistic. To be frank, I didn’t want to have a dumb son. My philosophy on what value means was so selfish and offensive. I thought of my own son, whom I am supposed to unconditionally love, as a burden almost. If anyone, I was the one who needed treatment or specialized help. It took being thrown that far out of my comfort zone to realize my grievous mental disorder – Selfishness. Even still, there are greater realizations to find.

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Before I looked into understanding the disorder, the catalyst to my change was the mind-altering account of one of the greatest treasures in the human race. Her name is Temple Grandin. Later, you will read the interpretation of the story of Temple Grandin that author and historian, Robert Greene, presents in the instant classic, Mastery. Her life is a triumph in perseverance, and a testament to the fact that the autistic are viewed, treated, and at times, even raised incorrectly. Once I learned of her truly awe-inspiring biography, I was moved to learn more of this misunderstood disorder.

Before being made privy to the fact that autism is a communications problem, my mental fabric was torn with ignorance. Thankfully, today when I remember my previous self, who thought the way I did, I no longer recognize him. When I finally caught a glimpse of my repulsive reflection, my instinct was to get it away from me. Much like that cold, blinding fog, being chased away by the morning star, my selfishness has been pushed out. With the veil lifted, at last I envisioned what for many families is an ally, my family’s foremost foe – Communication.

Communication is Key

Considering that communication is the underlying symptom of the autism disorder, I made a decision. If this disorder is going to cripple my son’s ability to verbalize his inner thoughts, our family’s mission will be to focus on learning communication to the best of our ability. The hope was this: if we could communicate on a higher level we could 1) Compensate for some of his main shortcomings, and 2) As we learn and evolve, although his evolution will be slower, he too will come to adapt to his weaknesses. My family quickly accepted the new focus on communication, but I’ve always had a tendency to dream big. Becoming a master of language is harder than it sounds. While we were learning, we still had our moments of frustration and misunderstanding. Interesting enough, Malik became the most patient person among us. To this day, there’s probably only one that I would consider to have transcended previous language barriers within our family unit – only Malik.

When presented the opportunity, my sons and I have a morning routine we perform together. Our ritual begins with a brisk walk starting just before daybreak. Malik, on this morning, was 5 years old and still non-verbal. At dawn, Malik’s ability to communicate shone as evidently as the sunrise. I watched him thoroughly explain his mood and desires without using words. His use of non-verbal cues, his body language, and his facial expressions, all shifting from sequences to simultaneous actions is like an art in and of itself. My autistic son taught me how to translate autism from negative to positive. His gift allowed him to do that, instead he would transform a disorder, into an instrument, one he practices continually.

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To strangers, his attempts and interactions make little sense. Those who know my son will testify that Malik is capable of communicating deeply detailed emotions, non-verbally. Everyone who knows him describes his charm, his innocent humor, and his stubborn streaks. They would also relate that Malik has an obsessive love for animals, and for building of any sort. What few see is the determination. This determination, an inner-strength, is often overlooked. He sees himself as able, no matter what, he will not give up. Verbal communication will not elude him forever. I am sure once his tongue is loosened and he merges body language with spoken communication, nothing will stand in his way. Then, what we all called a disorder will prove to be a gift. A trying fire, if you will, manifesting gold of greater purity.

Temple Grandin: The Role Model

Temple Grandin was forged in that same fire. She came forth as a peculiar treasure, with a worth far above rubies. Historian, Robert Greene, sheds light on Miss Grandin’s life in his masterpiece, Mastery. Mr. Greene paints a heartfelt picture from which the autistic and their parents will undoubtedly draw not only strength, but inspiration as well. In Mr. Greene’s words:

“Some people do not become aware of inclinations or future career paths in their childhood, but instead are made painfully aware of their limitations. […] Nobody faced this fate more powerfully than Temple Grandin. In 1950, at the age of three, she was diagnosed with autism. She had yet to make any progress in learning language, and it was thought that this would remain her condition. […] But her mother wanted to try one last option, […] she sent Temple to a speech therapist, who miraculously, slowly managed to teach her language.”

“Despite this improvement, Temple’s future still appeared limited at best. Her mind functioned in a different way she thought in terms of images not words. […] She was not good at socializing with other children, who often made fun of her for her differences.”

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“Whenever she felt troubled she instinctively retreated to two activities that were comfortable to her: interacting with animals and building things with her hands. […] Several years later she found herself pursuing a master’s degree in Animal Sciences at Arizona State University. […] Her professors there could not understand such an interest, and told her it was not possible. Never being one to take no for an answer, she found professors in another department who would sponsor her. She did her study, and in the process caught a glimpse of her Life’s Task. […] Slowly, with her visual sense of design and engineering, she taught herself the rudiments of the business. She expanded her services to designing more humane slaughterhouses and systems for managing farm animals.”

“With this career solidly in place, she proceeded to go further: she became a writer; she returned to the university as a professor; she transformed herself into a gifted lecturer on animals and autism. Somehow she had managed to overcome all of the seemingly insurmountable obstructions in her path and find her way to the Life’s Task that suited her to perfection.”

In my eyes, Temple Grandin demonstrates one ability strongest: The Ability to Translate Autism. After my mind recognized that my son was autistic, I then journeyed through my inner darkness. Truth and understanding brought acceptance, like a lamp of light, causing the darkness to flee and show me what I had to do. First and foremost I had to answer the question, “What is perfect about autism?” The answer is this: The disorder is perfect because, it makes those it challenges, and those in close relation to the challenged to translate autism from seemingly a disability, to the power it can become. Thankfully, my son’s gift of autism proved to be the answer all along. Making use of what we were given galvanized that answer. Though we have only begun to learn the first aspect of this three part translation, parents, caregivers, friends and family alike must experiment with these three helping hands. Communication, cultivation and “Clipping the Wings of the Disorderly” in order to learn the necessary translation.

Do not receive the curse of autism; receive the gift and the freedom, not the failure the “disorder” brings.

More by this author

Key Questions: Why Not Me? The Healthy Alternative Leaving a Legacy: 10 Tangible Traits of Timeless Icons 3 Ways Towards Finding Out How to Get Real Self-Help Translate Autism: Making The Disorder A Gift Not A Curse Worry to Win: How to Worry the Right Way

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Published on May 24, 2019

How to Raise a Confident Child with Grit

How to Raise a Confident Child with Grit

My husband and I facilitate a couple’s marriage and parenting group. Recently, the group discussed qualities, characteristics, and traits we wanted to see our children develop as they grow up. One term that came up that all parents seemed to upon agree as a highly valued trait was that of grit. The question from our group was:

“Can grit be taught to our children?”

The answer is, yes. Parents can help their child develop grit.

What is grit? Dr. Angela Duckworth is the top researcher on this subject and wrote the book Grit. She defines grit as “passion and perseverance for long term goals”. This new buzz word is popular in the adult realm, but what about our developing children? What if we could help our children develop grit as young children.

Grit is more crucial to success than IQ. Duckworth, through her research at Harvard, found that having grit was a better predictor for an individual’s success than IQ. This means having the smartest kid in the room doesn’t ensure any level of success in their future. They can be brilliant, but if they aren’t properly intrinsically motivated, they won’t be successful.

Grit determines long term success. If a child can’t pick themselves up and try again after a failure, then how are they going to be able to do it as adult?

What a gift it would be to our children to engage them in a manner that helps them recognize their passions, talents, and develop a persevere to purse their goals. Below are some tips on how to raise a confident child with grit.

1. Encouragement is Key

When a child wants to learn how to ride a bike, do they keep going after they fall down or do they quit after the first fall?

If they aren’t encouraged to get up and try again, and instead are coddled and told they can try again some other day, then they are being taught to play it safe.

Safe and coddled don’t exactly go hand-in-hand with building up grit. The child needs to be encouraged to try again. This can be a parent saying “you can do it, I believe in you” and “I know that even if you fall again you will try again and eventually you will get the hang of it”.

Encouragement to keep trying so that they can build up perseverance is very helpful in building a child’s confidence. This confidence is what will help them strike out and try again.

If they feel that they can’t do it or shouldn’t do it, then they won’t. The mind is a powerful thing. If a child believes that they can’t be successful in doing something, then they won’t be successful. Part of building that mentality of believing in themselves comes from encouragement from their parents, care givers, and teachers.

Cheer Them On

How many times have you heard a story of success that someone had in life that all began because someone believed in that person?

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A coach, a mom, a teacher can have a huge impact by believing in the child’s ability to be successful and voicing that encouragement to them. Words are powerful. Use them to build up a child, by telling them that they can do it even if they have try again and again.

Be their support system by being their cheerleader. Cheerleaders don’t just cheer when the team is winning. They cheer words of encouragement to keep the team going.

The same goes with children. We need to cheer for their successes, but also cheer for them to keep going and fighting the fight when life gets tough!

You Can’t Force Them

Keep in mind that you can’t force a child to keep trying. They have to do it themselves.

For example, when my daughter was learning to tie her shoes, it was a real struggle. She gave up. I couldn’t make her want to try to do it again. She had to take a break from the struggle for a few months and then try again.

She was more successful the second time around, because she had matured and her fine motor skills had improved. It would have been ridiculous for me to force her to practice tying her shoes for the three or four months in between, with tears and arguing taking place.

No, instead we took a break. She tried again later. Forcing her to learn something that she wasn’t ready to learn would have pit us against one another. That would have been a poor parenting move.

There are boundaries that parents can set though in some cases. For example, if your child begins an activity and wants to quit mid-season because they are terrible at the sport, you have the opportunity to keep them in the sport through the end of the season to show them that quitting is not an option.

Although they may not win another tennis match the rest of the season or win another swimming race all year long, finishing the commitment is important. It will help with the development of grit by teaching them to persevere through the defeat. It is character building.

If your child is great at all things all the time, they will not develop grit. They need to try things that challenge them. When they aren’t the best at something, or for that matter, the worst, it creates an opportunity for them feel real struggle. Real struggle builds real character.

2. Get Them out of Their Comfort Zone

My daughter wanted to try cheerleading this past fall. She has never done this activity in the past, nor is she particularly coordinated (sorry sweetie). For that matter, she couldn’t even do a cartwheel when cheer season began.

However, we signed up because she was so excited to become a cheerleader. I signed up to coach because there was a need for more cheer coaches. We were all-in at that point.

Once the season began, I quickly realized that cheerleading was far outside my daughter’s comfort zone. The idea of cheerleading was great in her mind. The reality of memorizing cheers and learning physical skills that were hard for her made the experience a struggle. She wanted to quit. I said to her “no, you were the one who wanted to do this, so we finish what we started.” I had to say this more than once. I don’t think anyone on the squad knew this was the case, because she kept at it.

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She kept practicing those cheers every evening. It did not come naturally to her at first, so it was uncomfortable. She always seemed to be half a beat behind the other cheerleaders, which made it very awkward and uncomfortable for her. However, letting her know that quitting mid-season was not an option made her try harder. She wanted to learn the cheers so she wouldn’t stand out on the squad as the girl who didn’t know what she is doing.

By the end of the season, she became a decent cheerleader. Not the best, but she was no longer half a beat behind the rest. She learned skills that were hard for her to conquer. Now that she felt success in achieving something that was uncomfortable and hard for her. She knows she has it in her to do that in other areas of life.

That is why it’s ok for us as parents to let our kids feel the struggle and be uncomfortable. If they don’t experience it when they are young, they will as adults, but they won’t be equipped with the perseverance and inner-strength built from years of working hard through smaller struggles as they grew up.

Allowing our children to struggle helps them build that skill of perseverance, so that they have the grit to achieve hard things in life that they really desire to accomplish.

3. Allow Them To Fail

Your child will fail at things in life. Let them. Do not swoop in and rescue your child from their personal failures. If they don’t fail, then they don’t have the opportunity to pick themselves up and try again.

If I had pulled my daughter from cheerleader once I realized that it was going to be a real struggle, she wouldn’t have experienced failure and struggle. Letting her have this small failure in life taught her lessons that can’t be taught in a classroom. She learned about the power she has within herself to try harder, to practice in order to make change happen, and to push through it even when you feel like giving up because it is embarrassing.

Failure is embarrassing. Learning to handle embarrassment is taking on a fear. When kids learn to do this at a young age, it is practice for adult life. They will experience failure as an adult. They will be better equipped to handle life’s disappointments and failures if they have learned to handle the fear of embarrassment and failure when they are young.

Practice builds up the skill. Processing and handling fear, embarrassment, and failure are skills.

If I had pulled my daughter from cheer and allowed her to quit, I would have taken from her the opportunity to learn how to process and handle the embarrassment and failure she was experiencing at each practice and games. She learned to keep trying and that practicing the skills would lessen the embarrassment and feelings of failure.

Learning the value of practice and how to preserve through the fear and failure are priceless lessons. We may want to rescue our children because we want them to be successful at the things that they do, but how will they be successful in this competitive world as adults if they are provided with only opportunities in which they succeed?

Failure is needed to learn to thrive. Success in adulthood does not come easy to children who are protected from failure because they haven’t built up the ability to persevere.

Perseverance comes when they have learned time and time again how to take the fear of embarrassment and failure head on and practice to get better.

4. Teach Them to Try Again

Encourage your child to try again. Don’t let them quit on the first try.

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Life is hard. If we quit the first time we tried at things, we would never amount to anything in life. We need to teach our children that trying again is simply part of life.

Help them to give it a go by providing encouragement and support. Offer to practice with them, provide them with tutoring or coaching if necessary — whatever it takes to get them back on the proverbial horse and trying again.

Break it Down

Sometimes failure occurs because they are trying something all at one time and they haven’t mastered the smaller components.

For example, a math student isn’t going to jump into calculus as their first high school math course. No, of course not. They build on their skills. They begin with basic math, then algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and pre-calculus to then they get to the calculus level.

If they are thrown into the deep end by taking on calculus before the foundation of their math skills are built, they will fail.

Help your child try again by breaking down what it is they are trying to achieve.

Going back to my cheer example… my daughter was not the best at learning the cheers when we began. It then dawned on me that we needed to break down each cheer phrase by phrase. Once we learned the phrase and movements that went with it, we could then learn the next one. Once these were learned, we could combine the phrases, practice them together, and then try to move to learn the next phrase in the cheer. It was a tedious process, but it worked.

Not all skills come easy for kids. Helping them learn the skill of breaking things down into manageable tasks is another way we teach them about grit. They are learning to build skills by persisting, practicing, and building upon previous experience, knowledge, and skills.

Grit is put into practice in childhood when they learn how to break down large tasks into smaller achievable tasks in order to build toward a greater goal.

5. Let Them Find Their Passion

Your child may be a wonderful pianist. However, if they aren’t passionate about the skill, then they likely won’t be happy or fulfilled in becoming a concert pianist.

It’s great to help your child discover their talents, but also let them discover what they are passionate about in life.

True success will come because they are passionate about the activity, not because they are the best. The best usually become that way because they are passionate first. Therefore, let your child experience a variety of activities and interests so that they can discover what they love to do.

6. Praise Their Efforts, Not the Outcome

Praising their efforts keeps them motivated and trying. If you focus on outcome, then when they fail, they will become defeated and discouraged.

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Focusing on the fact that they tried hard and pointing out specific ways that they did well in terms of effort will support them in trying again. When you make a habit of focusing on outcome, then failures are avoided at all costs, including taking risks.

Risks are needed in order to become successful. Therefore, make a habit of praising their efforts, even when the outcome is not what they had hoped and tried for, because eventually, if they keep trying their efforts will result in success.

7. Be a Model of Grit

If you are a parent or a caregiver for a child, then you are a model to that child. Children naturally look up to the adults in their life that are closest to them, especially their parents. They will look at your ability to persevere and achieve. Your grit will show.

Your children are watching. They may not know the term grit, but they will learn about working hard, not giving up, trying again after failure, and all that grit entails from your actions.

How you handle life is being watched by your children. You can work on your own grit by reading Angela Duckworth’s book Grit .

Develop a Growth Mindset

Helping your child develop a growth mindset is also helpful to your child in their development of grit. Dr. Dweck, author of Growth Mindset and researcher at Stanford, developed a theory of fixed versus growth mindset.

Basically, what it means is that if you have a fixed mindset, you will fear failure and easily give up. Someone with a growth mindset believes that their talents, skills, and abilities can be improved with hard work and learning. Parents and caregivers can help with the development of a growth mindset.

    Some of the ways that a growth mindset can be developed include:

    • Teaching your child how the brain works: neuron connections, right brain versus left brain.
    • Teach them to set goals.
    • Teach them to have a “can do” attitude.
    • Teach them to develop a strategy when they want to achieve something.
    • Teach them that mistakes are an opportunity to learn.
    • Teach them that failure is a normal part of life.
    • Teach them about self talk: Self Talk Determines Your Success

    There are a great deal of activities and materials online for helping your child develop a growth mindset including these resources below (each site contains at least some free content):

    The Bottom Line

    Grit is not just for adults, it is something we can help our children develop. Grit is more critical to success than IQ, so we should be helping our children develop this quality early in life.

    As a parent, being a model of grit, is one of the first ways to help our children become “gritty”.

    Featured photo credit: Gabriela Braga via unsplash.com

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