As parents we rejoice on our kids talents. They are good at sports, singing, mathematic or arts. How is it to be a parent of a special needs child who is good at nothing?
And this made me realize that our job as parents, teachers, therapists, is to teach our special needs kids to be good at something. Teaching skills where there is lack of, developing abilities where there is disability, fostering success where there is chronic failure.
These kids give up before trying. They stop playing. They might not even get in the game. It’s painful to watch. It requires a lot of patience and energy to motivate them to keep going, or even to make them try to play.
Learning, socializing, trying new experiences, meeting new contingencies of reinforcement (fancy terms we behaviorist use which simply means obtaining rewards from the environment) require motivation, understanding success and failure, visualizing how great it would feel to win or get an A. It requires the ability to connect past experiences with possibilities in the future. All processes very difficult or impossible for people with special needs.
Lack of motivation to learn and get better at something is arguably one of the main features of individuals in the autism spectrum. Some of them do not to like anything. Others, perseverate in dysfunctional use of objects.
Therefore, I think it is our job to expose them to success. Contrived rewards and praise have to be built into their daily schedule of activities, at home and at school. Instead of waiting for them to fail to reprimand them, let’s set the environment and provide them with the necessary support to succeed. In some cases the task requires a great deal of work and patience. How you keep your “cool” when they are throwing a tantrum in the grocery store, screaming to the top of their lungs, hitting and kicking you? Realizing that they are suffering and it’s our job to help them and not the other way around can be a very effective shift of perspective.
Another important factor to consider is the need to teach them social skills, especially how to play with others. What regular developed kids learn by themselves has to be taught to these children. Spending some time playing with them, coaching them through the turn taking/sharing/following-the-rules/winning-losing processes can be a challenging but crucial task to support special needs children achieved success.
Let’s help them win and we’ll be winners.