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Published on July 10, 2018

Most Overlooked Signs of Autism in Children (And What Parents Can Do)

Most Overlooked Signs of Autism in Children (And What Parents Can Do)

Autism is much more prevalent than it was 20 years ago. When I was growing up, I didn’t know a single person with autism. Now as an adult with my own children, I was highly concerned during the first few years of my children’s lives that they would show symptoms of autism.

I knew the signs of autism but there are also some overlooked symptoms of which all parents should be aware. Knowing these signs can help a parent seek earlier intervention, which leads to better treatment outcome for the child long term.

How common is autism in children?

Autism is a concern for every parent now, as the rates of children being diagnosed with autism has increased steadily since the year 2000.

In the year 2000, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reported that autism was prevalent in 1 out every 150 children.[1] In most recent reporting by the CDC (which was recorded in 2014), the rate of autism is now 1 out of 59 children.

Boys are far more likely to have autism–four times greater, to be exact. These are alarming statistics that have parents baffled by the increased numbers of children with this disorder.

The exact cause of autism is unknown. Researchers are hard at work trying to find the cure, caus and physical blood test that would make it easier to diagnose.

For now, parents must rely on clinicians to diagnose their child with autism based on their observations of the child’s behavior along with information relayed from the parent to the clinician regarding their child’s behavior and development.

Catching autism earlier

Parents must be the advocate for their child. It is imperative that all parents know the signs of autism, so they can seek intervention as soon as possible. Research, as cited by the American Psychological Association has found that early intervention and treatment of autism provides greater results in the long run.[2] This is not a disorder where a parent should wait and see if the symptoms get worse over months and years.

Early intervention is the key to helping a child with autism. If you see early signs of autism in your child, immediate help should be sought in order to get your child the best chances for overcoming their symptoms long term. The APA stated the following regarding ages of children and the effectiveness of early intervention:

The latest findings are changing what we know about autism and in particular, stress the need for diagnosis and treatment before age 6 when treatment is known to be the most effective. The newest research suggests it’s even possible to reverse autism symptoms in some infants and toddlers or, more commonly, decrease the severity of the symptoms.

If you are concerned, then seek professional advice and medical support to have your child assessed. Even if they do not qualify for an autism spectrum diagnosis, you may be recognizing learning disabilities or behavioral abnormalities that can be addressed and treated.

It is remarkable how physical therapy, play therapy, occupational therapy and other modalities of therapy can provide a dramatic difference in improving abnormal or delayed behaviors when these treatments are provided over a dedicated period of time such as 6 months, a year or more.

Parents are responsible for recognizing the help that their child may need. Once recognized, the next step is finding reputable avenues for assessing and then treating the child.

Below are tips on how to recognize potential autism in your child, along with tips on what to do next if you do feel your child exhibits autistic symptoms.

Diagnosing autism

The DSM-5 (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Version 5) is the diagnostic tool that clinicians rely upon for diagnosing a child with autism. Their observation of the child, interactions and communications with the parent are all utilized for assessing a child for a potential autism diagnosis.

Parents should be aware of the diagnosing criterion because this can help parents to recognize the symptoms and behavior associated with autism early on. For many parents with autistic children, they notice that their child had motor skill difficulties as an infant and even difficulties with social interactions before 1 year of age.

The key is, parents noticed these behaviors. It is helpful to know what kind of behaviors to look for in a child that may indicate autistic tendencies.

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Below are the diagnosing criterion for autism from the DSM- 5 so you as a parent can assess whether your child should be professionally assessed. These are found on the Autism Speaks website and are exactly as written in the DSM-5.[3]

A. Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, as manifested by the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive, see text):

  1. Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity, ranging, for example, from abnormal social approach and failure of normal back-and-forth conversation; to reduced sharing of interests, emotions, or affect; to failure to initiate or respond to social interactions.
  2. Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction, ranging, for example, from poorly integrated verbal and nonverbal communication; to abnormalities in eye contact and body language or deficits in understanding and use of gestures; to a total lack of facial expressions and nonverbal communication.
  3. Deficits in developing, maintaining and understanding relationships, ranging, for example, from difficulties adjusting behavior to suit various social contexts; to difficulties in sharing imaginative play or in making friends; to absence of interest in peers.

Specify current severity: Severity is based on social communication impairments and restricted repetitive patterns of behavior.

B. Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities, as manifested by at least two of the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive; see text):

  1. Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech (e.g., simple motor stereotypies, lining up toys or flipping objects, echolalia, idiosyncratic phrases).
  2. Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns or verbal nonverbal behavior (e.g., extreme distress at small changes, difficulties with transitions, rigid thinking patterns, greeting rituals, need to take same route or eat food every day).
  3. Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus (e.g, strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects, excessively circumscribed or perseverative interest).
  4. Hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory input or unusual interests in sensory aspects of the environment (e.g., apparent indifference to pain/temperature, adverse response to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects, visual fascination with lights or movement).

Specify current severity: Severity is based on social communication impairments and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior (see Table 2).

C. Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities, or may be masked by learned strategies in later life).

D. Symptoms cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning.

E. These disturbances are not better explained by intellectual disability (intellectual developmental disorder) or global developmental delay. Intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder frequently co-occur; to make comorbid diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability, social communication should be below that expected for general developmental level.

Note: Individuals with a well-established DSM-IV diagnosis of autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, or pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified should be given the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. Individuals who have marked deficits in social communication, but whose symptoms do not otherwise meet criteria for autism spectrum disorder, should be evaluated for social (pragmatic) communication disorder.

Specify if:

  • With or without accompanying intellectual impairment
  • With or without accompanying language impairment
  • Associated with a known medical or genetic condition or environmental factor
    (Coding note: Use additional code to identify the associated medical or genetic condition.)
  • Associated with another neurodevelopmental, mental, or behavioral disorder
    (Coding note: Use additional code[s] to identify the associated neurodevelopmental, mental, or behavioral disorder[s].)

With catatonia (refer to the criteria for catatonia associated with another mental disorder, pp. 119-120, for definition) (Coding note: Use additional code 293.89 [F06.1] catatonia associated with autism spectrum disorder to indicate the presence of the comorbid catatonia.)

Red flags

The diagnosing criterion is helpful but it can also be cumbersome. It is a great deal of information and clinical wording, thus some basic red flags are also helpful for parents who are concerned that their child may be autistic.

Autism Speaks provides a list of red flags for parents to watch for concerning a potential autism diagnosis:[4]

Possible signs of autism in babies and toddlers:

  • At 6 months of age: Lack of smiling while socially interacting with people, lack of happy expressions when interacting with people, and/or lack of eye contact.
  • At 9 months of age: Still a lack of smiling, failure to begin non verbal communications such as noises meant to get their care giver’s attention when wanting something, and/or failure to begin making vocal sounds for the purposes of interacting with other people.
  • At 12 months of age: No babbling or attempts to form baby-talk and words for communicating with other, failure to begin use of non verbal motions to communicate their wants such as pointing or gesturing what they want or need, and/or does not respond when their name is said or called out.
  • At 16 months of age: Failure to say any words. No attempts to begin verbal communication with actual words. There may be seen a disinterest in the child to learn or try to form words through babbling or making verbal noises that sound like the start of words. Caregivers will notice the lack of interest in verbalization by this age.
  • At 24 months of age: Still lacking age appropriate verbal communications. They may have achieved the ability to say one word at a time such as ball, mom, or drink. However, they lack the ability to form phrases or put two words together.

There are also red flags to look for at any age:

  • Loss of previously acquired skill. For example, a child who was once using phrases and almost forming sentences now only uses one word at a time to communicate their wants and needs.
  • As early as toddler age, they appear to prefer being alone. They lack a general desire to interact with their peers. For example, when at a play setting with children their own age a caregiver will notice lots of children playing together while their child choses to play on their own and seems content to do so. If a child is playing on their own and expresses sadness by saying “nobody is playing with them” or “nobody likes them”, thus they play on their own, this child does not fit the category, as they are interested in playing with others. It is the lack of interest in playing with others that is a red flag at any age.
  • The child not only prefers but requires a stringent routine. Any deviation by the caregiver of this routine will cause the child to become anxious, stressed, or even distressed. They don’t just “go with the flow” when changes arise. They show an emotional dependence on their routine, and when it is changed they are visibly upset.
  • They exhibit echolalia. This is the repeating of words and phrases that they hear from others. What they are repeating does not seem to have significant meaning. For example, they may hear someone say “red ball” during a conversation. The child will repeat “red ball” over and over again, like a broken record. They can also imitate and repeat motions of others. Some autistic parents also report that their child fails to initiate their own words, instead their child only repeats words that they hear.
  • Exhibiting repetitive behaviors. Some of the most common are flapping, rocking or spinning. Some of these behaviors are age appropriate, such as spinning. However, it is the continual repetition of the behavior that should be of concern to parents.
  • Has difficulty understanding the feelings of others. To others it may seem that they are disconnected to people and their feelings in general.
  • Has sensitivity with any of their senses. They will show a more intense than normal reaction to certain sounds, smells, textures, tastes, or lighting. Their reaction can range from very intense to unusual. The key for caregivers to note is the consistency of this reaction when the same sense is affected.
  • Language delays of any kind combined with any of the other warning flags.
  • Remaining nonverbal.
  • The child has highly restricted interests. This can be shown by their fixation on only playing with one kind of toy to the exclusion of interest in any other toys.

Keep in mind that a child with autism can have just a few of these signs and difficulties. Other children who may have some of these difficulties, may not qualify for a clinical diagnosis of autism.

Again, it is the discretion of the clinician and their interpretation of the child’s behaviors aligning with the DSM-5 criterion.

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The overlooked signs of autism

Some of the red flags listed above are actually often overlooked or misunderstood by parents. They should be understood by more parents in order to have children diagnosed earlier. Thus, more in depth explanation and understanding of the five most overlooked red flags is needed.

Like mentioned previously, earlier recognition, diagnosis, and treatment leads to better outcomes. This means a more well adjusted child in the long run, when treatment begins at the earliest possible time.

Below are those five red flags with greater explanation and examples:

1. Highly restricted interests

Children with autism can exhibit symptoms of restricted interests. This is sometimes not fully understood, because it is more than just having an interest in only a few toys or activities.

For example, I know one child with autism who is obsessed with Legos. You may be thinking, I know kids who are obsessed with Legos, but they are not autistic. You are right, not all kids obsessed with an interest are autistic. However, there are some defining behaviors that make an autistic child different.

A child obsessed who is autistic will likely be so enamored with their Legos to the exclusion of interest in playing with other toys. Their obsession can last for months or years, until they find a new interest to fill their obsession.

They also have a tendency to engage in play that in described by some parents as OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). The child wants things in a certain order or certain color scheme.

This interest is obsessive in nature and when others try to intercede in the play and alter the order of things, the autistic child will become highly anxious or upset.

Also, when an autistic child with highly restricted interests has their toy or object of interest taken away, they become anxious and even distressed.

Signs to be on the lookout with highly restricted interests include an obsession with a toy or activity to the exclusion of other toys and activities, anxiety when their interest is taken away, and play that is highly orderly and can be described by parents as obsessive in maintaining certain qualities of order. This order can include numbering, size, colors, etc.

2. Repetitive behaviors

One of the more familiar repetitive behaviors of some autistic children is head banging. This often begins when the child is younger and will repetitively bang their head against a wall or object.

While many of the repetitive behaviors are done for self soothing purposes, head banging can be harmful or dangerous to the child.

There are other repetitive behaviors associated with autism that are less well known. Some of these other behaviors include hand flapping, spinning, rocking and repeating words or phrases.

Repeating order also falls within this category. For example if a child lines up their cars in a particular color or number order and does this repeatedly, this is repetitive behavior.

It is important to note that some repetitive behaviors occur as part of normal development. Just because your child lines up their toys does not mean that they are autistic. It is the constant repetition of these behaviors and the number of repeated behaviors that the child exhibits is what a clinician will look at when assessing a child for autism.

Autistic children typically exhibit between four and eight different repetitive behaviors. The behavior is often described as self-soothing. Which also means, if their behavior is interrupted it can cause them stress and anxiousness.

3. Unusual or intense reaction to smells

It is common for children with autism to have strong reactions to loud noises. Many of these children are also sensitive to certain clothing on their bodies. Tags on clothing can often be a culprit of many an upset autistic child.

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Smell is another sense that is affected by autism. Every autistic child varies on their sensitivities and their reactions to those sensitivities, but smell is one that is often overlooked.

Autistic children can have strong reactions to certain smells that cause them great distress and anxiety. For example, a normal child will smell a skunk and respond by saying “yuck” and plug their nose. An autistic child on the other hand may start crying and yelling loudly. They have a severe over-reaction to certain smells.

Parents can become so accustomed to their child’s outbursts that they themselves become anxious when they smell the offending odor that sets off their child, because they know it will result in such an awful outburst from their child.

Conversely, CNN reported that recent research has shown that children with autism will either show an exaggerated response (such as an outburst) to strong smells or a numbness to strong smells.[5]

Many autistic children don’t show a differentiation in their response to good smells versus bad smells. They showed little reaction to extreme smells of any kind. They appear to have more of a numbness to smell. Not that they can’t smell, but that they don’t react to smells.

4. Routine changes disturb the child

Routines can be a good thing, which is why this symptom and red flag of autism is often overlooked. Parents may think that their child is just accustomed to things are certain way and like their particular routine.

However, if a child becomes so dependent on a routine that any changes cause them to react severely (such as outbursts or fits) or high levels of anxiety are exhibited, it may be an indicator of autism.

Some autistic children will have such awful reactions to any deviation from their routines that it quite disruptive to the rest of the household.

Routine can be good but when a child is so dependent on their routine that it causes emotional distress when it is changed in any way, it may be an indication of autism.

5. Difficulties understanding feelings of others

Children with autism often display emotions differently than others. They may show a lack of empathy or zero reaction to a distressful situation of others.

For example, they may witness a child break a bone on a playground and they appear completely unfazed. This does not mean that they did not emotionally process the situation or have feelings about what is happening in front of them. It simply means that their reaction is different than that of most of the population.

Their inability to show reactions to situations where most people would typically show reaction is common with autistic individuals. When they are unable to express their own emotions, it makes it more difficult for them to understand and process the expressions of emotions of others.

They lack the innate ability of normal emotional expression but this does not mean they do not feel on the inside. It is that they lack the ability to express emotions normally. Therefore, when others express their feelings and emotions to a person or child who is autistic the reaction may nothing.

The lack of reaction to the feelings and emotions of others is what is commonly missed by friends and family. They interpret the behavior as a lack of empathy. Parents may think their young child may just need to develop more to show empathy when difficult or sad situations arise.

However, it is not about development as even toddlers will show sadness when others are crying and upset. Even babies will often begin to cry when they hear other babies crying. The autistic child will often appear unfazed by these emotions expressed by other children. They remain neutral.

It is the lack of expression of their emotions that is misunderstood. Their own lack of expressing emotions makes it difficult for them to understand the expression of emotions of others.

Benefits of an official diagnosis

Some parents will steer clear of clinical diagnosing because they fear that their child will be labeled. Labels can carry a stigma.

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However, there is great benefit to an official DSM-5 diagnosis from a clinician for a child. The child can receive help is the biggest benefit to getting a diagnosis.

If a child doesn’t have a diagnosis, it is difficult to get the proper help for that child. How can you get in to see a doctor that specializes in autism if you will not allow a diagnosis to happen? Your doctor will likely have great difficulty referring you to specialists such as occupational therapy without a diagnosis or reason for that referral.

Another benefit is planning for the child’s educational future. In the public education system within the United States, your child can receive an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) if your child has an autism diagnosis. This will be an educational plan that the teachers, counselors and other school staff implement with the parent involvement.

This plan provides for specialized services within the school and classroom, such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, reading specialists, etc. for better helping and serving the child in the school environment. An IEP plan will help the child get the services that the need and deserve. These services are typically free to the parents and are paid through the school district monies.

Another reason to have your child assessed for autism if they present any of the red flags previously listed is that you can rule out other diseases and disorders as the cause. Knowing what they have and having a path forward for treatment is empowering.

If your child is diagnosed with autism, you no longer have to wonder if it could be another disease or problem plaguing your child. You also now have a name for the cause and you know that there is help available for this specific disorder.

Your child is the same person they were before the diagnosis or label. Don’t allow a diagnosis to change the way you think of your child. The only thing that has changed is your ability to get them the help they need.

With a proper diagnosis you now have a starting point. You have a diagnosis and there are specialists around the globe who treat this disorder.

Knowing what your child has and being able to therefore proceed with help for them is loving them greatly. They are still the same child they were before and after the diagnosis was given to them.

What to do if you are concerned

You can access the Modified Checklist of Autism in Toddlers (Revised version) via this link free: M-CHAT-R. You can take this free online test and it will provide you with results and information regarding your individual child and their potential for having autism.

This information can be helpful if you are debating whether to contact your health care professional regarding your concerns. You can make an educated decision based on the results from the M-CHAT-R.

If your child is at risk, according to the results, you should immediately contact your health care provider, such as your pediatrician. They can help you in your next steps.

There is also a free download from the Autism Speaks website for parents: First Concern to Action Tool Kit. This kit provides concerned parents with a great deal of helpful information such as the following:

  • Information on normal versus abnormal childhood development by age.
  • Helpful tips on what do to if you are concerned about your child’s development.
  • Information on how to get your child evaluated/ tested for autism.
  • What treatment options are available for autism, if needed.

The download is completely free and will further help a parent who is concerned about their child and their development. The earlier the intervention, the better the child will respond to therapies in the long run.

Detection and treatment of autism early is of greater help to a child who may be affected. Don’t hesitate if you think your child may be affected.

Download the First Concern to Action Tool Kit above today if you have any concerns. The kit will provide you with direction, hope, and information you need to know if you think your child is autistic.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

[1]Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Data & Statistics
[2]American Psychological Association: Catching autism earlier
[3]Autism Speaks: DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria
[4]Autism Speaks: Learn the signs of autism
[5]CNN: Study finds children with autism don’t react to good and bad smells

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Dr. Magdalena Battles

Doctor of Psychology

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Last Updated on July 12, 2018

17 Ted Talks for Kids to Inspire Little Minds to Do Big Things

17 Ted Talks for Kids to Inspire Little Minds to Do Big Things

A few years ago, I watched Brene Brown’s TED Talk on Vulnerability. Her story, her research, her authenticity, and yes, her vulnerability resonated with me deeply. One of the concepts that stood out the most was that in order to live wholeheartedly, we must feel the full range of emotions. The positive: joy, gratitude, happiness. And the not so positive: grief, fear, shame, sadness, disappointment.

This talk moved me, changed me and challenged me to think differently. And that is what TED talks have the power to do. They can make the hairs on the back of our neck stand up, bring us to tears, and most importantly, motivate, inspire and challenge our thinking.

Which is why I’m so excited to share these TED Talks for kids. I’ve always had a passion for working with children; I have three daughters of my own, co-lead two local Girl Scout Troops, spent time in my career working in education and am a member of the Galileo community advisory board (an innovation camp for kids).

I’m involved in all of these because I feel deeply how important it is to help our kids build their confidence, self-esteem, innovation and creativity. I want every kid to realize they are awesome just as they are. That they have the ability to make anything happen if they dream big and work hard. Imagine what that would do for our youth.

If you Google or scour lists of top TED talks, you tend to get similar ones popping up. That’s because they’re awesome. But they’re not all appropriate for kids.

How I shortlisted these TED Talks

I’ve done the hard work for you. Along with my family, kids, their friends and a few others, we vetted over 100 TED Talks and picked out the 17 that I believe send powerful and inspiring messages our kids desperately need.

So, whether your kid is 6 or 16, I hope you find something that inspires, moves, motivates and challenges them.

  • They’re short enough for young brains to stay engaged. While there is an 18 minute “rule” for TED talks, many of the most popular talks are 20+ minutes. Recently, as I toured middle schools for my daughters, one of the principals shared that a kid’s attention span is the kids age minus one. So, if you have an 11 year old, then 10 minutes is his/her attention span. You can’t expect him/her to listen to 18 minutes and stay focused the whole time. All of the talks highlighted below are under 15 minutes. Some are as short as three.
  • They all include life lessons I believe are important for today’s youth. For me, this meant searching for talks that would build confidence and self-esteem; help kids be true to themselves. Understand what makes a happy and successful life. How to dream big. To communicate, interact and treat others. Above all, these talks will help kids see that they are awesome and that anything is possible when they dream big and work hard.
  • They’re kid-friendly. You might think this is obvious, but I found many speakers share political views, curse, or share content or concepts that that could be scary or confusing for young minds. If you ask those around me, I’m probably a little overcautious about what I expose my kids too. I’m ok with that. They have plenty of time to see the darker side of the world as they age. I would be comfortable with my seven-year-old watching all of these.
  • They’re interesting. Kids need to be engaged, interested and motivated to even sit through a video. While this isn’t always easy to do, I’ve tried to find videos with likeable speakers, compelling topics and inspiring stories. And don’t worry, they’re not just for kids – these are awesome talks for adults as well.

Top 17 Ted Talks for kids

1. A Life Lesson From A Volunteer Firefighter (4:01)

I started with this one because all of my kids absolutely loved it. It’s an easy entry point for kids – short and sweet with a powerful message. (And what kid doesn’t like a firefighter?!)

Volunteer Firefighter and Activist Mark Bezos shares his story about how small things can make a big difference.

My 11-year-old’s key takeway? “It shows we don’t have to do something big to make a difference”.

Here’s a key piece of his message:

“In both my vocation at Robin Hood and my avocation as a volunteer firefighter, I am witness to acts of generosity and kindness on a monumental scale, but I’m also witness to acts of grace and courage on an individual basis. And you know what I’ve learned? They all matter.”

2. What Adults Can Learn From Kids (8:06)

One of my 11-year-olds was riveted by this one. In fact, at one point, I tried to increase the volume on the iPad while she kept pushing me out of the way so she didn’t miss anything.

Twelve-year-old Adora Svitak is incredible. This talk is inspiring not only because of what she says, but because of how incredible and confident this young girl is as she presents.

Here are some of my favorite excerpts from her talk:

“Kids don’t think about limitations…they just think about good ideas.”
“Learning between grown-ups and kids should be reciprocal.”
“When expectations are low, trust me, we (kids) will sink to them.”

3. Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection (8:50)

Recommended by several people when I was asking around, I found myself choking up in the first two minutes as Reshma shares her personal story about bravery in the face of failure.

“This is not a story about failure or resilience…it’s about bravery.”

She talks about our “bravery deficit”.

“When we teach girls to be brave, and we have a supportive network cheering them on, they will build incredible things.”

She shares one of my favorite philosophies: Progress, not perfection.

This is a great one for those who need a little more confidence to raise their hand, try out for that team, or face an upcoming challenge.

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4. 10 Ways To Have a Better Conversation (11:30)

This is one of my all-time favorites. I’m becoming increasingly concerned about our kids’ ability to have a face-to-face conversation. Just look around at a restaurant and see how many kids have their faces in phones. One recent survey of managers said 46% of recent grads need to hone their communication skills.

As someone who spent many years earning a living helping people communicate better, I think this is necessary for every kid. It’s a lost art. A skill that is becoming extinct with the world of technology.

Radio Host Celeste Headlee provides great tips for how to have a better conversation, and, more importantly, how to listen.

At one point, she shares this thought written in the Atlantic by a high school teacher named Paul Barnewell.

“I came to realize that conversational competence might be the single most overlooked skill we fail to teach. Kids spend hours each day engaging with ideas and each other through screens, but rarely do they have an opportunity to hone their interpersonal communications skills. It might sound like a funny question, but we have to ask ourselves: Is there any 21st Century skill more important than being able to sustain coherent, confident conversation?”

My older daughters both really enjoyed this talk. They learned “how important it is to listen and to think about other people, not just yourself”.

My favorite line of all time: “There’s no reason to show you’re paying attention, if in fact, you are actually paying attention.”

This is a great one to share with your teenagers – even if you need to text them the link?

5. A Promising Test for Pancreatic Cancer… From A Teenager (10:46)

I just love this one. Jack shares his story, how as a teenager he searched for and found a promising cure for pancreatic cancer. Motivated by the death of a close family friend, Jack shows some of my favorite attributes: thinking, process, initiative, perseverance, determination, courage…and humor. He’s a fantastic speaker and will keep your kids interested and engaged.

One of my favorite quotes:

“You don’t have to be a professor with multiple degrees to have your ideas valued…Just imagine what you could do.”

“He did that all by himself?” One of my daughters asked at the end. Yep, he did. And you can, too.

6. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (6:09)

With three kids, I’m always driving a car full of kids somewhere. As I was researching for this article, during each of my rides, I took the opportunity to ask whoever was in the car about their recommendations. This talk was recommended by a 16-year-old high school student. (Thank you, Bella!) I had seen it before and was so glad she liked it as much as I did.

Angela Lee Duckworth left her consulting career and became a 7th grade math teacher in the New York public school system. She was fascinated by what helped students succeed. This talk is the story of what she found.

Here’s a quick preview:

“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint. “

Need another reason to share this with your kid? Angela highlights that kids with grit are more likely to graduate…and be successful in their chosen careers.

We all know how important grit and perseverance are; let’s help our children see that.

7. Dare To Dream Big (8:49)

With just over 22,000 views, this video hasn’t hit “mainstream” TED world yet, but Isabella Rose Taylor, a freshman in college and a working fashion designer, tells a fantastic story.

“Today I want to talk to you about dreams and stories.”

She shares one of my favorite stories about the 4-minute mile and how belief is such an important part of success.

“They didn’t all the sudden get faster or stronger, they just believed it was possible.”

The rest of her talk is filled with lessons on dreaming big, believing in yourself, courage, authenticity, and the importance of relationships.

“We should aim as high as possible and dream big.”

Yes. We. Should.

8. Yup, I built a nuclear fusion reactor (3:26)

Even the title shows the confidence that 17-year-old Nuclear Physicist Taylor Wilson has. As he says…and proves,

“Kids can really change the world.”

I love his passion and confidence. He started out with a dream and ended up meeting the President.

9. Underwater Astonishments (5:18)

While this may not have any explicit life lessons, it’s incredibly interesting and fun to watch with kids. Approved by my 7-year-old, who said, “It was very interesting and I liked the pictures. I didn’t know an octopus could do that.”

The underlying lesson? For me, it shows how everything is incredible. When we look for beauty and awe, we will find it.

I also think it’s fascinating as Geologist David Gallow shares:

“And in a place where we thought no life at all, we find more life…there’s still 97 percent, and either that 97 percent is empty or just full of surprises.”

This teaches kids that there is so much in life and in their world to discover.

10. What Makes A Good Life? Lessons From the Longest Study on Happiness (12:40)

I’d say this talk is better for older kids. Robert Waldinger shares what makes a good life, from the longest study in history on happiness.

If your kids are having a hard time getting into it, head to 5:51 for the highlights:

“So what have we learned? What are the lessons that come from the tens of thousands of pages of information that we’ve generated on these lives? Well, the lessons aren’t about wealth or fame or working harder and harder. The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

I love the focus on the importance of relationships and friendships.

11. The Happy Secret To Better Work (12:14)

Positive Psychologist Shawn Achor is funny, fast and witty. He begins his talk with an incredibly funny story about his sister and him when they were little.

He shares that:

“90 percent of your long-term happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by the way your brain processes the world. And if we change it, if we change our formula for happiness and success, we can change the way that we can then affect reality.”

If you want to get to the essence, head to 9:09 for his suggestions.

This is another one that’s probably best for older kids and teenagers.

12. Weird, or Just Different? (2:35)

The shortest talk on this list, Derek Sivers talks about the power of perspective. It teaches kids that we all have a different lens through which we see the world and we need to be aware of our assumptions and bias.

One of Derek’s thoughts:

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There’s a saying that whatever true thing you can say about India, the opposite is also true. So, let’s never forget…that whatever brilliant ideas you have or hear, that the opposite may also be true.

My daughter’s thoughts: “It shows we can both be right.” YES.

13. Living Beyond Limits (9:44)

When I said earlier that I would let my 7-year-old watch all of these talks, this might be my one exception. Amy Purdy’s message is incredible but with an illness and near-death experience, it could be scary for little ones.

When she was just 19, Amy got bacterial meningitis and after a long fight for her life, she survived, but lost both legs below the knee. Now, a pro-snowboarder, she shows how “It’s believing in those dreams and facing our fears head-on that allows us to live our lives beyond our limits.”

Her message:

“If your life was a book, and you were the author, how would you want your story to go?”

As my daughter and her friend watched this video, they loved Amy, were completely engaged by her story and got this lesson – “Don’t give up on our dreams just because something bad happens.”

14. 8 Secrets of Success (3:26)

In this short video, Analyst Richard St. John condenses a decade of research on success into three minutes. It’s a two-hour presentation he gives to high school students on what’s needed to be successful. Quick. Fast. Interesting with lots of great life lessons including serving, persisting, hard work and passion.

15. Nature. Beauty. Gratitude. (9:47)

The title says it all.

Filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg’s beautiful cinematic time lapse imagery is paired with words of perspective from a little girl and an elderly man about what makes life so beautiful.

It may feel slow for some kids, but contains a compelling and valuable message.

I loved when the little girl shared her perspective about why we should be exploring nature and not watching TV and when the elderly gentlemen shared these thoughts:

“You think this is just another day in your life? It’s not just another day. It’s the one day that is given to you today. It’s given to you. It’s a gift. It’s the only gift that you have right now, and the only appropriate response is gratefulness.”

Kids might also find it interesting why we say OMG. I did.

16. Why Some Of Us Don’t Have One True Calling (12:26)

This is a great talk, especially for high school students who are trying to figure out what to do with their life! In my coaching practice, this question still evokes a sense of stress, whether someone is going into high school, graduating from college, or in a mid-life career change.

Emilie’s powerful message:

If you have multiple dreams, goals and interests, “There’s nothing wrong with you. What you are, is a multipotentialite. Someone with many interests and creative pursuits.”

The statistics back up this concept. Studies have shown that only 27 percent of college grads have a job related to their major; the average person changes jobs 10-15 times during his or her career; and people change careers anywhere from 3-7 times over the course of their lifetime.

Emilie then goes on to share the skills and benefits of being a multipotentialite, complete with examples of successful individuals who have created a life that works for them.

My absolute favorite message from this talk is one that I’m deeply aligned with in my coaching practice:

“We should all be designing lives and careers that are aligned with how we’re wired… Embracing our inner wiring leads to a happier, more authentic life.”

Amen.

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17. How I Harnessed the Wind (5:52)

Incredible and inspiring. At the age of 14, William Kamkwamba, with very little education or resources, motivated by poverty and famine, created a windmill to power his family’s home. As he looked at his life, he felt that what he was living was a fate he couldn’t accept. So rather than live the life he was “destined” to live, he decided to change it.

Not only is this story about courage, drive and innovation, it will also help kids gain perspective about what others in the world are facing on a daily basis.

He closes with these words of wisdom:

“I would like to say something to all the people out there like me, to the Africans, and the poor who are struggling with your dreams. God bless. Maybe one day you will watch this on the Internet. I say to you, trust yourself and believe. Whatever happens, don’t give up.”

BONUS: I Think We All Need a Pep Talk (3:28)

Ok, so it’s not officially a TED Talk, but it was on their site[1] and I just had to include it! Many of you have probably seen this Soul Pancake video before. I don’t need to say much. Just watch it.

Here are three of my favorite lines from 9-year old “Kid President”:

“We’re all on the same team.”
“We were made to be awesome.”
“Give the world a reason to dance, so get to it.”

Now What? Watch these with your kids!

Now that you’ve read through these options, it’s time to pick a few and watch them with your kid(s). I recommend you choose three that are relevant to your family, a situation your kid is in, a life lesson you feel is important for them to learn, or something that you’re just excited to share.

That’s the easy part. Now you have to get them to watch it!

Here are a few recommendations for sharing these with your kids:

1. Share your thoughts and a few W’s

Who is this talk about, why you think it’s important for them to watch and what you think they’ll find interesting. Get them hooked before they watch it. Giving them high-level context will not only get them interested, but get their minds primed for learning.

2. After you watch the video, have a discussion.

Not sure what to ask? Here are some ideas:

  • What did you think of the video?
  • What did you enjoy?
  • What do you think motivated this speaker to speak on this topic?
  • What did you learn?
  • What do you think you’ll do differently as a result of watching this?

3. Ask them to stick with it and be patient.

When I started testing these with my daughters, I could see in the first minute they were wondering if they really wanted to do this. I asked them to be patient, keep an open mind and stick with it. Once they got through the initial, “Ugh, Mom!”…. they enjoyed watching.

Lucky for you, the ones they couldn’t get through didn’t make this cut! Watch one (maybe two) at time. Stick with the age minus one rule.

I loved researching these talks, watching them with my kids and their friends, and hearing their thoughts and reactions. I hope they provide a great discussion for you and your family, some inspiration for your kids and something that moves, motivates and challenges you both.

I’d love to hear which of these resonated with you and your kids – and if you have other favorite TED talks you think would be great for kids, please let me know!

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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