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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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Last Updated on August 15, 2018

Entitled Kids Are Parents’ Biggest Enemies

Entitled Kids Are Parents’ Biggest Enemies

An old Proverb says “Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished: but he that gathers by labor shall increase.” It is good advice. We probably have applied this to our own lives already. We believe that nothing good or worthwhile comes easily, so we work hard to earn what we want. Unfortunately, kids these days seem to be missing that message. They are growing up feeling and acting as though their mere existence entitles them to money, the newest smart phone, TVs, designer clothes, and more. The entitlement attitude is pervasive in our culture and it starts with what we are teaching our children.

If we don’t want our culture to be entitled, we need to start preventing entitlement in our own homes. That way, 20 years from now, you won’t have a 30 year old living in your guest suite using your credit card for their needs because they have no desire to go out and earn it for themselves.

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How entitlement begins

None of us wants to think that we are making our children feel entitled. However, it happens easily to all of us, especially to good parents. Parents who try hard to give their children a good, happy, and full childhood easily fall into the entitlement parenting trap. It’s because of a parent’s desire to make their child happy that they give too much. Their child grows up without any wanting. Needs and desires are met by the parent and thus the child not only feels, but knows that their parent is there to provide for them.

Needs are essential to be met by parents, but what about all those wants? Is a phone a want or a need? What kind of clothing becomes a want instead of a need? You as a parent need to start differentiating between needs and wants in order to properly parent in a manner that works to diminish entitlement attitudes.

We want our children to feel happy and loved, but our efforts can be undermining them mentally. We may be feeding into the development of their entitlement attitude by doing and giving too much. Psychology Today examines children’s sense of entitlement and states,[1]

Yet, when children receive everything they want, we feed into their sense of entitlement—and feelings of gratitude fall by the wayside. It’s what Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, believes is a “Me, Me, Me” epidemic brought on by parents doing everything they can to insure their children’s happiness.

Good parents who are trying very hard unfortunately are feeding into the entitlement epidemic when they give their kids too much. Wanting your children to be happy is wonderful, but there are ways to help develop their character so that the entitlement attitude does not seep into your household.

How to know if your child is acting entitled

There are some indicators with your child’s behavior that will show you whether or not they have or are developing an attitude of entitlement. These are just some examples:

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  • They do not handle losing well.
  • They do not congratulate winning opponents (whether it be in sports, a board game, or simply a race on the playground).
  • They do not cope well with being told “no”.
  • They do not make an effort to help around the household.
  • When asked to help, they whine and complain, as though they should not be expected to help in the household.
  • They often think the rules apply to other people and not to them.
  • If they have a problem in school or life, they expect you as the parent to take care of the problem for them.
  • They expect to be rewarded for good behavior with toys or treats, rather than good behavior being expected from the parents and does not require rewards. This is especially true in public places such as going to the market.
  • They do not care about the feelings, needs, or desires of others. Act selfish and self centered in general.
  • They do not accept responsibility for the behavior or things that have gone wrong that are their fault. Make excuses or passes the blame to others.
  • Things are never enough for them. They always want more, bigger, or better of whatever it may be that they currently have or are doing.
  • They do not express genuine gratitude when appropriate, such as getting a gift or a compliment. You as a parent are always having to prompt them to say “thank you”.
  • If their friend has something, the expectation is that they should have it too.
  • If they request a list of items for a birthday or holiday, then they expect that they will receive all of the items on their list. If they do not get all of the requested items, they will be disappointed, rather than grateful for what they did get.
  • They always seek to be the first and are upset or greatly disappointed when they are not the first (i.e. first in line, first to get a task completed, first to finish an exercise).

How to prevent entitlement

Preventing entitlement starts with the parent. It can start today. You have the power to say “yes” and to say “no” to your child. You, as parent, are the rule maker and can help pave the way to making your kids grateful rather than entitled. Below are some tips to pave the way with your family to preventing entitlement.

Stop doing

Stop doing everything for your child. Allow them to do things that they can do for themselves. If they are able to handle a complex video game, then they are more than capable of doing the dishes, raking leaves, making their bed, and more.

We don’t give our kids enough credit. They are far more capable then we recognize. Kids at the age of 5 are out on street corners selling candy and goods to tourists in third world countries. They make change for buyers, interact with their buyers, and work all day to help provide income for their family. Therefore, we can certainly expect our own 5 year-olds to make their bed, unload the dishwasher, and clean up their toys.

Children are smart, capable, and hard working when properly motivated. If the expectation is that they can complete a task then they will be able to do it. If the expectation is that they cannot do something, then they won’t be able to do it. You, the parent, are the agent to empower them to do things by asking, providing them with directions, and then setting the expectation that they will complete the task at hand.

Empower your children by doing less for them. If they are capable of doing something, then let them do it!

Teach them to be good losers

Your child will not win at everything. Therefore, they need to learn the art of being a gracious loser. From a young age, they should be taught to congratulate the winner and to shake their opponent’s hand. Talk to your child about winning and losing. Let them know it is ok to lose. It is an opportunity to learn and become better. They should congratulate the winner because someday they may be the winner and it will be nice to have others providing the congratulatory messages to them.

The world is a better place if we can be happy for the successes of others, especially if those people are friends and family. When playing games as a family or with friends, teach them by example. Congratulate the winners whole-heartedly and make the winner feel good about their achievement, even it if is just Chutes and Ladders.

For the losers, you say “better luck next time” and give them a genuine smile. Teach your child that these are the ways we show kindness to others, especially when we lose. This is a harder lesson for younger children to grasp, but be consistent with your own behavior and your insistence that they act the same way when they do not win. Eventually your hard work should pay off and you will have a child who has genuinely learned to be happy for others because they know what it is like to be a winner and a loser and they cannot win at all times.

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Use the opportunity of failure or losing to explain to your child about some of the greats in this world that did not at first succeed. Oprah did not get her first TV job she interviewed for and Tom Hanks dropped out of college and was a bellhop before he became famous. You can also use the opportunity to discuss what they did well in their game or whatever it was that they just lost. Point out the good and then ask them what they think they could improve upon. Let them think introspectively on this, rather than you pointing it out. Otherwise, you will just come across as the critical parent, which is insult to injury following a loss.

Talk about responsibility for their actions

We all have encountered that adult in life who constantly blames other people for the bad things that happen in their life. It is never their own fault. It is always someone else that has caused their demise. These adults were once children. This behavior likely started in childhood and they never overcame this attitude. They don’t know how to accept responsibility for their actions.

Parents must teach their children from a young age to take responsibility for their wrong doings. If they make a mistake they own up to it. Instead of belittling the child for their wrong doing, use it as a learning opportunity. Engage them in a discussion about what happened and why. Allow them to take responsibility and ownership of their role in the situation, yet follow it up with discussion on how it is an opportunity for the child to learn and grow. They can have a different course of action the next time something similar happens. Help them determine a better action for handling the situation, so the next time it arises, they are better equipped mentally and emotionally to take on the event, person, or circumstance.

“I am sorry” is a powerful phrase. Adults that fail to apologize, were not properly taught as kids to use this phrase. Teach your children to use it now and use it often. For the big mistakes and the little mistakes. When they apologize, they should be taught to be specific with their apology. “I am sorry for (fill in the blank)”. Taking responsibility means a heartfelt apology. Often they need to understand how their actions hurt the other person in order to provide a heartfelt apology. If they don’t understand how the other person is feeling, it is hard to feel sorry for the action. Therefore, a parent who can take the time to help the child understand how the hurt party is feeling will better equip your child with empathy and compassion.

For example, if your child stole their best friend’s new ball cap, then sit down and have a conversation with your child before you take them to their friend’s home to return the hat and apologize. You ask your child, “how would you feel if you had the hat stolen and it was something you worked hard for doing chores to raise the money to purchase the hat or it was a gift from a relative you love greatly?” Help them empathize with the loss that their friend may be feeling. Rather than yell at them for their wrong doing, use it as an opportunity to learn from their mistake and become better. Having to return the hat and apologize will be a punishment in itself.

Talk about the value of a dollar

It is important to talk about money from a young age. Children need to learn about the value of money and its essential nature in our lives. Talking about money and cost of living should be an on-going conversation in your household. They need to understand that food, a home, transportation, and clothing all require money. Money comes from working. They should also see that there are times when you too can’t have something you desire. Talk openly about a budget, so that one day when you say “it is not in the budget”, they understand what you mean.

It is difficult for a child to understand the value of a dollar if they have never had to earn one. One of the best ways for a child to learn to appreciate the value of a dollar is for them to earn money. If they are too young to be employed, they can still earn cash in the neighborhood shoveling driveways, babysitting, dog walking, pet sitting, and working for friends and neighbors. They can also begin doing household chores and be provided an allowance for the chores that they complete. If you already have chores and they are required as a part of being a member of the family or household, then provide extra jobs over and above the regular chores that they can then earn money for completing. The point is for them to earn it themselves. They do the work and they earn a fair wage.

Don’t be indulgent and over pay your child for the chores they complete or you are undermining your efforts to teach them the value of a dollar. Make a list of the chores and the amount of money they will earn for completing the jobs. This way they know what is exactly expected and how much money they can earn. Then when it comes time for the next special toy or technology they come asking for, you can help them earn it rather than give it to them.

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Just say no and make them work for it

You are the parent. You can say “no”. You should say “no”. Have you ever met a child who has never been told “no” by their parents? If you have, you know that child is the most spoiled kid in need of a serious attitude adjustment. When parents are quick to say yes all the time, then kids grow up thinking that the world will say “yes” to their every whim and desire. That’s not the real world though.

Our kids will experience rejection, heartache, and being told no many times in the course of their life. If they can experience it in the home and learn how to handle the “no” and deal with it, they are better off in the long run. They will be better equipped to handle a no in the real world, because you have said no enough times that they can emotionally handle the disappointment. They also know the alternatives. For example, if its a new video game that they want, you tell them no, you must earn it. From there the child goes to look at the chart and calculates which and how many of the chores they must complete in order to earn the video game. They will also learn other valuable skills in this process, such as time management, because they will need to set aside time every day for a number of days or weeks to complete all the tasks to earn the amount of money they need.

Saying “no” and providing alternatives for your child to earn what they want is empowering. You are teaching them to fish. An old proverb says,

“if you give a man a fish he will eat for a day, if you teach a man to fish he will eat for a lifetime”.

Teach your child how to earn for themselves so they can be better equipped for a lifetime.

Delayed gratification is also powerful. When children learn that they can earn something for themselves that they truly want, then when they do finally earn it they feel empowered. They worked hard and they made their goal happen. They earned it themselves. This is a powerful agent to help increase self esteem. Keep the chore list going, so that your child has the opportunity to grow their self worth by completing tasks and earning the things that they want in life.

Help them find gratitude

Much like teaching your children the art of being a good loser and how to apologize, teaching gratitude is an ongoing lesson. There is a saying,

“Gratitude begins where my sense of entitlement ends.”

Children learn to be grateful first when they do not get everything they desire. What happens when they get everything they want and ask for is that they expect everything they ask for. You set the expectation by saying “yes” too often. Allow for them to want. Not for basic necessities of course, but for things above and beyond the essentials in life. They will become grateful for the things that they do get when they are not handed everything they ask for.

Teach them to say thank you. Talk about how when someone gives them a nice gift that person (or their Mom or Dad) had to go to work to earn the money to buy that gift. Talk about how it is nice to have generous friends and family because not everyone has that in their life. Make them responsible for thanking others, both verbally and in writing. When your child receives a gift have them write a thank you note in return. It does not need to be long and eloquent. Just the practice of taking the time to write thank you and that the gift is appreciated helps them practice gratitude. They can carry this valuable skill into adulthood.

Grateful people are also happier people, so help your child see that they should be grateful for the blessings, big and small, in their life.

Help them practice giving back to other

Find opportunities for you and your child to give back to others. It can be through material things, but even more valuable when your time is given. Giving your time with your child to others is of great value and a great life lesson. Your child being exposed to others less fortunate is helpful in curbing entitlement.

Kids Giving Back supports families getting into their community to give back. They state,

We strongly believe that when young people volunteer they develop respect, resilience, and leadership skills, as well as the ability and opportunity to positively engage in the wider community. Our philosophy embraces volunteering as a two-way street, giving children and their families an opportunity to change lives, including their own.

Teaching your child to give back to others is empowering to them on so many levels from creating leadership skills, problem solving skills, and self esteem from the experience of helping others in need. Teaching kids that there are others in the world that have so much less than them will help them become more grateful. Having them serve others also makes them more service oriented and creates an awareness of the need to help others in this world.

Entitlement attitudes fall by the wayside when a child has learned the value and importance of helping others and giving to others in need.

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