For neurotypical children, independence is something that often develops naturally as they grow older and take on more responsibilities. They learn not only the skills they need to be independent, but the ability to choose the best time and place to utilize these skills. They can make decisions, take risks, and practice patience. Their parents can expect them to go to college, get a job, and move out on their own, all of their own volition. However, parents of children with autism have a different relationship with the idea of independence. It may be something you long for your child to experience, but you may feel uncertain that they will ever be able to be independent by any definition of the word. While fostering independence in your child on the spectrum is not an easy task and will take years, there are ways to teach your child the skills they need to become more self-reliant.
Teach your child how to do it; don’t do it for them
When you provide assistance to your child, the goal should be to teach them how to do it by themselves in the future. Even if your child is struggling to accomplish their task, resist the urge to just do it for them. With every attempt, you should be providing less and less help. Even if your child cannot do it perfectly, they are learning a valuable lesson.
Praise hard work, not just the end results
Use positive reinforcement to foster independence in your child by offering them praise for their accomplishments. However, be sure to praise them specifically for their independent behavior, not the end results. Be descriptive so they know exactly what they are doing that is so praiseworthy.
Increase skills with age
As you teach your child more independence, it will give them a foundation on which they can develop even more skills. As they develop independence, they will be able to take on more age-appropriate tasks.
Allow your child to do these tasks without supervision
Even if you allow your child to perform a task by themselves, if you hover over them every time they do it, they are depending on you to monitor them. As your child develops a skill, give them room to practice it without your supervision. This will teach them to problem solve when they struggle because they won’t have you to swoop in, and it will give them greater confidence in their ability if they know you trust them to do it themselves.
Think of it as a gift to your child
Teaching your child to be independent requires years of dedication to this goal. At times, it may be frustrating, and it may seem simpler to just do everything for them. In reality, teaching your child how to be independent is a gift to them. It shows them that you have confidence in their abilities, in turn giving them more confidence in themselves. This gift will pay off in the long run, as independence skills will serve your child well in the future.
For more autism resources, check out the community at Normal Life Inc.