Raising Resilient Children with Autism

20th April 2016

Mrs Helen Campbell

Head of School/SENCO

“Raising Resilient Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders” by Robert Brooks and Sam Goldstein

Drs. Brooks and Goldstein are practicing psychologists in the USA who have lectured internationally on topics relating to resilience in children with Autism. In this book they illustrate their strategies with examples from their caseloads. They adopt models that build on the strengths in children rather than ‘fixing deficits’. They believe that working in this way offers the best long-term outcomes for children with the diagnosis of Autism.

They contest that children with developmental disorders can be taught to interact with others respectfully, bounce back from difficulties, cope with anxieties and deal effectively with situations that they find challenging.  To function well in society people need to be resilient.

They say that resilient children

  • View mistakes as opportunities to learn
  • Problem solve
  • Believe that what happens in their lives is based on the choices that they make
  • Understand that their achievements are due to their own efforts.
  • Manage their own behaviours and emotions
  • Develop a set of rules that keep them safe and able to function well in society
  • Problem solve by focusing on the things that they can control

We must prepare children to respond well to change because ‘you can’t control what happens to you and you can’t control the emotion you feel as a result of it. You can control the way you react to the emotion.’

They split their work into eight guideposts.

  1. Teach and conveying empathy - Not agreeing with everything a child says but appreciating the child’s point of view so that they know you are on their side.  As the adult it is necessary to become ‘stress hardy’ rather than stressed; we must develop our own resilience around the child’s meltdowns, to view negative behaviours as methods of communication.
  2. Using empathic communication and active listening – use their special interests creatively to teach higher-level thinking skills; this  is not about dumbing down their learning or appeasing them.  Avoid power struggles.
  3. Accept children for who they are - Not excusing inappropriate behaviour but understanding that it is not driven by malicious thoughts or actions. Work with the child in a manor that will not erode their self-esteem or sense of dignity. Be solution focused, maximize the opportunities for success. Analyse the things that go well to look for strategies that can be replicated in other situations. Look for opportunities to praise, no matter how small.
  4. Nurture Islands of competence – promote areas of strength. Use special interests and skills in a socially acceptable way to develop ‘soft skills’. Rather than comment on a child’s talent comment on how hard they have worked so that they learn that outcomes have not been achieved by chance. Give feedback on the ‘soft skills’ that they use so that they begin to recognise them.
  5. Help children to learn from their mistakes rather than feel defeated by them – fear of making mistakes is one of the biggest obstacles to learning and criticism can communicate that mistakes are bad and to be avoided. We can move them away from being dependent by teaching them that mistakes are only temporary and can be worked through.
  6. Teach children to solve problems and make sound decisions – Assist the child to define the problem, consider possible solutions and select the action. Teach them to follow a problem solving sequence :-
  • Articulate and agree that it is a problem
  • Consider two or three solutions and their likely outcomes
  • Action the one most likely to achieve success
  • Develop and agree a strategy or signal to remind each other of a necessary action so that there is no need to nag
  1. Discipline in ways that promote self-reguation and self worth – Discipline, in the traditional sense can weaken self-esteem, self control and the resilient mindset. Children must be shown how to consider their actions, the consequences of them and to read situations on an intellectual and emotional level.  It is easier to do this if you view inappropriate behaviour as a lack of skills. Discipline is teaching and as such it is not harsh or belittling.
  2. Develop responsibility, compassion and a social conscience - Use opportunities to let children help others.  To minimize anxiety and frustration the activities must be within the abilities of the child.  This will be even more successful if the child’s special interest can be incorporated into the activity.

The book is easy to read and the case studies bring the strategies to life.