Often, without meaning to, we might underestimate children with autism. Presuming competence is about dissolving all biases preconceived notions you might have towards your child’s capability, and instead assuming that inside their body lies a normal person. The only difference between you and them is that this person struggles to express themselves and needs a little bit of help from us to do so. Remember, just because your child cannot speak does not mean that they have nothing to say.
When you give your child the validation and respect of seeing them fully, you will soon notice them blossom before your eyes. Here are some pointers on how to presume competence in your child:
1. Remember that the outside doesn’t match the inside: How someone talks or acts is not a reflection of who they are or how they feel inside. By judging your child before they can show you their full potential, you are getting in the way of their progress and instilling self-limiting beliefs.
2. Support your child’s communication style: Meet your child at their current level of communication before pushing them to reach more advanced goals. For example, if you use a picture communication system, incorporate the idea of competence into the system. Keep using the pictures to talk about gradually more complex topics or ideas. Don’t assume that just because you aren’t speaking conversationally yet that you must shy away from more complex topics.
3. Your child is paying attention even when it doesn’t seem like it: Just because your child might not look you in the eyes or in your direction when you are reading them a story does not mean they are not paying attention to the story. Often autistic children need to move their bodies physically in some way to improve their focus. Continue working on teaching your child to look at you when you address them, but first recognise their own means of giving you their attention.
4. Speak to them at an appropriate age level: Remember that your job as a parent is to prepare your child for the world, not protect them from it. When you start talking to your child in an age appropriate manner, they will quickly meet you at the same level.
5. Don’t talk to a third person about your child as if your child were not there: Your children can hear you. Be aware of how you speak about your child in other people’s presence in front of them.
6. Get your child’s permission before disclosing their personal information: For instance, during doctor’s appointments include them as much as possible in conversations that pertain to them directly, regardless of if they are verbal or nonverbal. Always seek their consent.
7. Look for evidence of understanding: Be clued into your child’s body language. Know how they act when they are stressed, paying attention, processing information, etc. and meet them at their level.
8. Allow your child to “speak” for themselves: For instance, if you are ordering dinner at a restaurant, allow your child to talk to the waitress themselves instead of jumping in to “rescue” them from a potential challenge or awkward situation. Only intervene if your child seeks your help.