As parent we all want to ensure that our children are growing up to be a respectful part of society, but what happens when you are raising a child with autism high functioning who doesn’t comprehend empathy or compassion? I think we all can agree that having compassion and empathy are important skills to function in society, right?! The question is, how can we teach these skills to children who don’t pick up on social ques in the ways the rest of us do? I am not sure how you teach it or how you have worked with your autistic child, but this is how I have been able to work with my son and see progress.
It all starts with them repeating what you have been teaching them.
January 20, 2014 is the date my son stopped taking any medications, after a ridiculous scenario using Risperidone which actually helped my son or so it seemed for nearly a year or so, we had to stop having that medication due to health concerns. We switched to Abilify and then they added Prozac. Long story short, those meds all messed with him on various levels, only the Risperidone created health concerns with weight and Abilify helped keep weight steady-ish but his cholesterol started to get a little high. Finally … we were brave and stopped medications. As of January 20th we have been working with my seven year old son on ways to blossom in society and at home, without medications.
He has come so far in just four months.
When we first started in January without medication, Aj was still having some difficulties because of weaning off of medications but then about 1-2 weeks later it happened; my son was started to be the son I knew was inside of him somewhere. We finally received a diagnosis that made sense; Autism High Functioning and while many said try anxiety medications, we were not on the same page with those professionals. Thankfully our wishes were granted, no one is pushing Aj to have any medications. I wanted to work hard as co-parents first, as his primary caregiver I end up doing a hell of a lot of work but I see progress in every scenario that arises.
Aj is participating in class now. Aj is able to have a play-date and handle slight conflict with his best friend in ways he never would have in the past – using his words and intelligence. Aj has very little patience but is getting better and the one area that is going to take lots of proactive measures is teaching Aj empathy and compassion. Aj comes off rude, mean and occasionally selfish with the way he sees the world, combine that with his outspoken nature, well I am sure you know – we have a recipe for social world failure.
I won’t accept failure for myself nor will I ever accept failure for my children. Ever.
The smallest ways I could help teach Aj the skills of empathy and compassion were to work with his family unit, we are a close knit family. I started working with Aj in how he handles his siblings; teaching him that sometimes we have to take turns or do things we don’t really want to do because we are a family and every family member’s wants or needs do matter. I started heavily working with empathy and compassion during the kids school Spring break week. I used my words. I cited examples through out our days and then it happened; one day K-man didn’t want to do something that Aj wanted to do, instead of Aj getting mad at his brother and just “telling him how it is”, Aj actually told his little brother this, “K I know you don’t want to do this but sometimes we have to do things that others want to do because it’s a nice thing to do.”
I get it. Aj was repeating words I have said to him in the past, but you know what? That is a huge start!
I think the best way to teach empathy and compassion to a child who doesn’t “feel” those things on his own are this;
- Set the Example – cite times when you or another person have stepped back, outside of their own self to care for another person’s opinions, wants or needs. Explain intellectually the scenario and why the way the person handled it was in the right and being nice. Reiterate that we are to be nice to others in this world because that is what makes this world a happy place.
- Use your Words – With any lesson you wish to teach an Autistic High Fucntioing child you have to learn how their brain works and formlulate the words you use and actions taken in a method that makes sense to them. I found having a logical, matter of fact discussion and emotion while speaking really has helped a lot.
I am sure there are other methods that work for others with a child on the spectrum, but this is how I have been working with my son and I have seen amazing progress, so I thought I would share as a way to help others who have the question “how do I teach my child on the spectrum empathy and compassion?”
Image shown is Aj on our deck one sunny day after a long Winter. Aj prefers as little clothing as possible and was happy to be outside barefoot for the first time since Winter.