My son Benji is 9 years old. He is a great kid: spunky, funny, giggly, active, lover of animal facts, and a great big brother. He is also Autistic.
Autism is officially diagnosed using the term “Autism Spectrum Disorder” (ASD,) as the spectrum of autistic traits, tendencies, and challenges vary from person to person.
Some Autistic people will need round the clock care for the rest of their lives.
Others will earn PhDs, pursue careers, own homes, and have families one day (Achieving these goals doesn’t mean the person is not Autistic or that they don’t face daily challenges. Their Autism simply manifests itself differently and/or the person has learned to cope in effective ways).
I often describe Benji’s Autism as “High Functioning” because that is a term that people can wrap their heads around. However, “High Functioning” doesn’t mean he doesn’t face significant challenges both now and in the future.
I don’t know if he will graduate from college or have a career or family one day (current research is sobering)
I don’t know if he will be able to live on his own.
I hope he will but I can’t see into the future.
Benji’s personal future goal is to own an RV. Ideally, Micah (his twin brother) will drive the RV while Benji plays Legos with his little brothers and watches TV in the back! Love that kid!
While I don’t know what Benji’s future holds, as his mother, I want to help him reach his full potential, whatever that may be, and there are specific things I am doing now to help him thrive in the future as an Autistic Adult.
I want Benji—and all my sons!—to know how to take care of himself and a home (RV?!) one day, whether he is living with us or on his own.
Before he graduates from high school, my goal is that he will be able to complete any household chore, do laundry, grocery shop, and cook basic meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner).
Right now, he has daily chores (unloading/loading the dishwasher, putting laundry away, picking up, wiping the bathroom), and he goes grocery shopping with me occasionally. I’m trying to encourage him to cook with me more often because he loves to eat his favorite foods. Current goal? Be more consistent about having him fold his clothes.
It may take him longer (and require more patience from me) but I know he is fully capable of learning these life-skills.
2. Play Games
When we did therapy last year, the majority of the 8 months was spent playing games. At first, I was like, “What? Why…?” but after I observed many sessions, I realized that playing structured games can teach you valuable social skills: taking turns, waiting patiently, logical thinking, patterns, following rules, giving compliments, how to be a gracious winner (and loser), and so many more.
We’re adding more structured game time to our family life these days. Just yesterday, we played Monopoly for the first time. As we started the game, my husband and I steeled ourselves for a frustrating experience but, amazingly, we all had a good time. Miracles never cease to amaze—and we’re reinforcing those good social skills that don’t come naturally to my son.
3. Encourage special interests
I think the reason Monopoly worked so well is because we bought a Pokemon themed game. Pokemon is Benji’s current special interest.
In her book, Different…Not Less: Inspiring Stories of Achievement and Successful Employment from Adults with Autism, Asperger’s and ADHD, Temple Grandin, an Autism expert and an Autistic woman herself, encourages parents to carefully observe their Autistic children’s special interests and then help guide those special interests towards a future career field.
Now, while I am not sure how we will translate Benji’s Pokemon expertise to a future career, I have observed that he has a gifting for memorizing detailed facts, about Pokemon, Ninjago, and about animals.
We’re still discovering what Benji’s gifts and special interests are, but I’ve had many conversations with him about his love for animals and encouraged his interest in marine life.
Autistic individuals are often bonafide experts in their special interests; as Benji’s mom, I want to do all I can now to help guide his gifts and interests in a way that can help pave a road to future job/career success.
4. Teach social language
Autistic people often see the world as black and white, and have a hard time with “gray areas.” Language can be especially tricky as metaphors and figures of speech have shades of meaning that can confuse a person with an extremely literal mind.
To help teach Benji (and all our kids) expressions and idioms, I printed out phrases from this site, cut them out, and put them in a jar. Every so often, we have an Expressions Night where I read a phrase (What does “a taste of your own medicine” mean?), ask the kids what they think, and then explain the definition.
The Expressions Jar has been a lot of fun and the exercise makes figurative language normal instead of a source of confusion or frustration.
5. Address challenges
Autism brings many gifts to our life but it also brings challenges. In order to help my son thrive, both now and in the future, I want to give him the tools to address his challenges like sensory processing disorder, communication issues, and anxiety.
Although we are not currently doing therapy, I know we may need to go back to therapy or counseling in the future.
There was a time that seeking outside help to address challenges scared the living daylights out of me, but I want to give my son the most healthy, functioning future I can, and so sometimes I need to seek support when I don’t have all the ideas to help him thrive.As parents, we all want the best for our kids, whether they are Autistic or NeuroTypical. Benji is only 9 years old, but in another short 9 years, he will be 18. I’m striving to be creative as I raise him, with all his unique talents and challenges, to help him reach his full potential.
I hope one day he will own his own RV, but instead of sitting in the back, I hope he will be sitting in the driver’s seat.