I recently watched a story about Nelson Mandela.
Mandela spent 27 years imprisoned by the South African Government and remained steadfastly resolved during that time to ensure Apartheid was abolished in South Africa. During those long years, Mandela become renown for his refusal to never give in, as well as his extraordinary understanding and forgiveness of his opponents.
When I heard that particular quote, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between Mandela’s focus and the lives of many families who live with a child with Aspergers or Autism. 27 years is a long time to stay focused on one outcome, and yet for those living with ASD, 27 years is about the norm!
Parenting is a really tough gig at the best of times, but when parenting a child who exhibits challenging behaviours and has difficulty in understanding the social nuances of life, the burden on parents is often intense.
It goes without saying, that for all parents, our primary goal is to help our children become confident, independent and contributing members of our world. But sometimes that ‘lofty’ goal can become lost in the drama of life … particularly if everybody is having a ‘challenging’ day! It is during these tough moments that a goal can help everybody stay focused on what’s really important.
I believe it is critical for all involved in raising a child on the Autism Spectrum – parents, teacher and extended family members – to create partnerships. It is through these partnerships that clear goals and strategies can be designed to help the child navigate their world. Everybody, no matter who they are, needs to master goals and achieve success in order to build confidence and self-esteem. For a child on the Autistic spectrum , the opportunities to experience success can be few and far between and so it is even more critical for them to not only to learn how to achieve goals,but also learn to celebrate them.
Most children diagnosed with Asperger’s and Autism are usually given an IEP or Individual Education Plan. An IEP is like an action plan that helps keep everybody on task. Importantly, the IEP should include not only educational goals, but also social and interpersonal goals, as for a child with Aspergers or Autism those goals are often more important! But above all, the IEP needs to be focused on ensuring that the child with ASD can feel a sense of achievement, not the caregivers.
So, whilst the major goal is to help our children become confident, independent and contributing members of our world, in whatever context is appropriate, the incremental goals should be fairly simple and be something that you sense is important for your child’s development each year. Some examples could be – teaching your child one strategy to help deal with stress; develop a social skill; or help achieve success in one particular area at school. The goals need to be clear and with a time frame, where you can revisit if needed.
A number of years ago, I wrote an article called ‘Goals with Soul’. The whole article still finds its way into some of the goal setting links on the web.
Below are some questions to ask whilst you are preparing the goals, these need to be asked for each individual goal.
1. Is this goal reasonable, achievable and above all realistic. Remember you are dealing with a human being who has very definite ideas about their own lives. So the simpler and realistic the goal, the greater the success.
2. Does it have realistic and reasonable time frames?
Learn to understand your child. Be realistic with your time and energy levels. If you want to give your child one new strategy to help deal with stress, it won’t happen overnight. It may take a few weeks or even a few months to consistently stay focused on achieving that one solution. Don’t add stress by forgetting the true purpose.
3. Does this goal truly come from my heart and not from my head?
Is this goal something that you truly want for your child, not what somebody else thinks that you should be doing? As this child’s parent only you know this child well enough to know if the goal truly comes from your heart, and not from that place where people focus on age appropriate milestones.
4. Is this goal ‘attraction-based’ . An attraction based goal is focused on ‘attracting’ the right people, places and things in your life — without having to struggle for it. When ever we needed certain things in our life for David, and we were focused on them – a solution would magically appear. It was quite extraordinary really.
5. Does this goal incorporate daily doing steps ?
All goals require daily doing. Once you have come up with the goal, you then need to decide what you need to do – and- then DO it! Success doesn’t occur overnight and sometimes it will need many days or even months to see success. Be patient. Just set the goal in motion and back it up daily with small achievable steps.
6. Does this goal allow me to be open and willing to let go of any attachment to outcome?
What you envision as the outcome, may not necessarily be the destination. Be ready to accept the difference between failure and giving up and surrendering to something much more wonderful than you can imagine.
7. How do we celebrate this Achievement?
With any goal achieved, it is incredibly important to celebrate the achievement, to ‘lock-in’ the feeling of success. Remember, for your child with ASD (and for you) any small step forward is often more exciting than winning any Academy Award – and the parents of a child with ASD know that feeling well!
Nelson Mandela was able to stay focused on his goal for 27 years with extraordinary resolve and for parents raising a child on the Autistic Spectrum sometimes every day can feel like a ‘life-time’. But by keeping the goal to raise our children to become confident, independent and contributing members of our world, firmly in your focus at any time, backing it up with small manageable daily steps will help make the job just that little more manageable.
*Please feel free to down load the Free School Report to help you develop goals for your child.