As a parent, of course, you already have a relationship with your child. However, this article covers ways you can strengthen the level of trust your child has with you – when children feel safe and secure they’re more likely to try new things outside of their comfort zone.
Strengthening The Bond Between You and Your Child With Autism
However, understanding this strategy can help you:
- Build on the bond you already have with your child with autism
- Increase the level of trust your child has in you – which, as a result, will help your child feel safer and lessen their anxiety.
- Know what to look for when professionals work with your child – are they using this strategy to maximize their influence with your child?
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links
This strategy is part of a 13 part series. Each post in the series will explain an evidence-based strategy used by professionals for managing behavior with children on the autism spectrum. Each part of this series will contain a table of contents so you can easily navigate to the different strategies.
Table of Contents
- Strategy 1: Build a Relationship (that’s this post)
- Strategy 2: Individualize Motivation
- Strategy 3: Observe, Listen, then Join
- Strategy 4: Optimize Language
- Strategy 5: The Premack Principal
- Strategy 6: Basic Redirect
- Strategy 7: Breaks
- Strategy 8: Picture Rehearsal
- Strategy 9: Add Structure at Home
- Strategy 10: Teach Independence with Prompting
- Strategy 11: Transactional Supports
- Strategy 12: Add Structure to the Learning Environment
The Family is Part of the “Team”
The team of professionals who work with your child should treat you as part of the “team”. What I mean by this is doctors, therapists, teachers, principals, etc. should all be actively seeking information from you to know your child better.
Without a doubt, parents know their children better than anyone else. Therefore, professionals should be looking to you as their primary way to learn strengths, weaknesses, causes of anxiety, their likes and dislikes, and your opinion on supports before and while working with your child.
At the same time, they should understand how unique your child is, and want to get to know them and their personality, in order to build the best support “team” for them.
This should start by you getting to really know your child’s interests.
Get to Really Know Your Child’s Interests
Your child probably has a special interest, in other words, something they are devotedly enthusiastic about. I know, your life is probably already surrounded in that interest – whatever that may be.
But take some time to really learn about their interests. Spend some time familiarizing yourself with their interests when they aren’t around.
This will help you get on your child’s level and genuinely engage in activities with them. Your child will love it when you do.
I have personally played most of the Pokemon games and watched the TV show because Pokemon is my son’s current special interest.
I know enough that I can talk to him about different games, types, moves, etc. It’s opened up more opportunities for me to connect with him.
This also creates opportunities for you to successfully introduce new interests or activities.
Exploration & Introduction to New Activities
You shouldn’t discourage your child’s special interests – but it’s great to encourage new interests, too. The more you understand about your child’s interests the better chance you have at successfully introducing new activities.
Join your child in their activities and follow their lead.
Once you’re engaged with them, you can slowly introduce new learning and activities by keeping it interspersed with their current interests.
How to Introduce New Activities:
A simple breakdown of how this works is as follows:
- Start with your child’s current special interest.
- Slowly introduce an idea/topic that is related to their special interest by only focusing on the ways it relates to that interest.
- Slowly gravitate away from how it relates to their current interest by giving them new information that is unrelated
- Once you’ve grabbed their attention you can fade out the special interest and focus on teaching more about the new one.
This technique can be used over time to broaden individual interests. But you have to know your child to make this work for them.
Get to Really Know Your Child’s Triggers
Knowing about your child’s interests is important so you can connect with them and introduce new activities successfully. But it’s equally important to know and understand your child’s triggers.
The more you understand your child’s triggers the better you can foresee, and hopefully prevent, meltdowns.
You probably already know your child’s dislikes but if you take the time to thoroughly observe their behavior you will begin to notice patterns that were less obvious before.
You will also begin to notice more subtle anxiety cues – like small changes in body language, or tone of voice, that forewarn you of dysregulation and meltdowns.
Make note of things that upset your child and you’ll begin seeing patterns develop. This includes noting the environment and situation, plus what happened before, during, and after they were upset. Understanding these triggers is a valuable resource you can use advantageously.
Build Trust with Your Child
What can you do to help foster trusting relationships?
In order to have a strong bond with your child, you must also have trust.
Here is some advice paraphrased from Barry M. Prizant in his book Uniquely Human to help you build a strong trusting relationship with your child
Acknowledge Attempts to Communicate
In order for a relationship to have trust – you need to feel like the other person hears you. Even though your child may not communicate with words, it’s crucial that you strive to pay attention to what their actions, gestures, and speech mean and then acknowledge and respond to them.
This can be difficult and requires a lot of patience. However, helping your child feel heard is the beginning of a positive trusting relationship that can’t be built any other way.
Practice “Shared Control”
This means letting your child have choices – giving them a voice when it comes to activities, schedules, meals, etc so they have some control over their own life.
Of course, as the parent, you naturally want to choose what you feel is best for your child. Also, some choices are non-negotiable- such as going to school or anything relating to health and safety.
But have you ever been in a relationship where the other person was controlling and you had no say over your own life? It’s extremely hard to trust somebody like that and it’s the same for our children.
Whenever you possibly can, give them choices.
Acknowledge Their Feelings
When your child engages in disruptive behavior it’s natural to want them to stop. However, instead of blaming or punishing them for how they’re acting stop and think how they must be feeling and then acknowledge those feelings.
When you understand your child’s feelings and respond to their actions empathetically, it builds trust and helps your child know that you’re a “safe” person.
Be Dependable, Reliable, and Clear
As you know, individuals with autism thrive on a consistent and predictable routine and that applies to their relationships with people as well.
Social situations are often unpredictable and that’s a major factor in why social interaction is so challenging for our kiddos. You should always behave predictably so your child can at least know what to expect with you.
Make sure you clearly state expectations, rules, and intentions to your child and remain consistent. If your child always knows what to expect from you they will feel more at ease, less anxious, and more trusting.
It’s hard to feel trust toward someone who is constantly trying to change or “fix” you.
Trust me, our kids find life hard enough to navigate without being constantly reminded of what they do wrong or can’t do at all.
As often as possible focus on your child’s successes and build up their self-esteem. When children feel better, they do better.