by Dan Coulter, Coulter Video, January 19, 2005
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world be a better place if our kids hung on our every word? If
they worshiped our wisdom and lived to do everything we told
them to do?
Probably not, but it's easy to feel that way. And it's so
tempting to try and impart our gems of wisdom as they come to
us. Often we do exactly that, as if we were applying post-it
notes to our kids' bodies, expecting them to keep each note
handy and reach out and find exactly the right advice at the
Like that's going to happen.
So do we always have the right to get frustrated when they do
something we've told them not to do -- or fail to do something
we now expect of them?
For many kids, I
think getting ad hoc advice as it pops into their parents' heads
must be more like getting peppered with pebbles. The pebbles are
annoying and most of them just bounce off.
This all came to mind as my wife and I talked with our son, who
has Asperger Syndrome, on the last day of his winter college
break. We were bursting with advice and ideas on things Drew
could do to improve his study habits, keep his room cleaner,
store his clean laundry differently...and on and on.
We had our advice pebble slingshots out and had started
peppering our son before we came to our senses and got
realistic. We wound up talking about just a few things we'd like
him to do differently and discussed practical ways he could make
This was much more in line with the way his brain absorbs
information. Like many kids, he has a hard time changing habits
he's developed over a long time. A habit is like a template in
your head. If you want to change the behavior, you have to
rewrite the template - and that takes time and effort.
So it makes sense to pick the most important habits you want
your child to learn -- or to unlearn - and work on them one at a
time. One of the things we focused on while Drew was home this
college break was using email. He routinely uses instant
messaging to talk with his friends, but has had a hard time
remembering to check his email on a regular basis. This was not
only frustrating to us as parents, but had the potential to
cause problems at school. His college instructors and
administrators often communicate with students through email. So
not checking email meant risking not knowing about assignment
changes or school announcements.
Our solution was to send him emails while he was home and remind
him to check them every day to help him get in the habit. Also,
when I drove him back to school, we set up his computer to
automatically open his email program every time he turned on his
computer as a reminder to check for messages.
My wife and I were delighted when he began promptly responding
to our emails -- and ecstatic when he began generating his own.
We heaped on the praise in subsequent email messages.
That's important too. Sometimes its easy to use on our kids what
we used to call "exception reporting" when I worked for the
phone company. "Exception reporting," means only getting a
report when something goes wrong. If your kids only hear from
you when you're telling them what they need to change, you're
probably not a lot of fun to be around. You may also get tuned
out a lot.
We've found some of the most important things to work on with
Drew involved safety skills and self-advocacy skills. Safety
skills include more than avoiding physical danger. We've talked
with him about scams and not giving out personal or financial
info on the Internet. We've also talked about how he needs to
approach his instructors to make sure he understands assignments
and knows what he needs to focus on to do the best possible job
in a course.
Yes, we'd like his room to be neater and cleaner, but as long as
he's not breeding deadly E. coli or typhoid, we're not likely to
start staging surprise inspections.
The cliché's "pick your battles" and "don't sweat the small
stuff" have their roots in sound reasoning. Think about the
skills that are most important for your son or daughter to learn
to live independently. These are probably the most important
things you can work on. And it's much easier - as we've learned
- to work on these things while your kids are still living at
Test runs are also invaluable. Telling your child how to do
something pales in comparison with showing him and then having
him do it himself. Many of our kids also need to have complex
actions broken down into clear steps. For example, making a
purchase in a store's checkout line involves: 1. Selecting your
item or items. 2. Checking their prices and making sure you have
enough money to buy them. 3. Finding the checkout counter and
standing in line. 4. Keeping focused in line. Remembering who
you're standing behind and moving forward when that person
moves. 5. When you reach the checkout clerk, handing your items
to the clerk or putting them on the counter where he or she can
reach them. 6. Waiting for the clerk to total your purchases and
tell you how much you owe. 7. Handing the clerk enough money to
pay for the purchases. 8. Waiting for the clerk to hand you your
change, if you have any coming. 9. Waiting for the clerk to put
your purchase in a bag, if it requires a bag or if the store's
checkout clerks just routinely bag merchandise. 10. Taking your
purchase and your receipt with you when you leave the checkout
counter and the store.
When Drew was young and learning about shopping, he was easily
distracted and didn't always remember to step forward as a
checkout line moved up. I also observed him handing his money to
the clerk with his merchandise instead of waiting for the clerk
to ring up his purchase. With some guidance and practice, he
absorbed his "checkout etiquette" and was able to go shopping on
his own with no problem. Letting him handle checkout chores
whenever it was practical during shopping trips helped build his
skills and confidence. There's no substitute for letting your
child do all these steps himself, only stepping in to assist if
you absolutely have to, and giving him or her immediate feedback
It's never too early to identify key life skills and start
practicing the most important ones. Working consistently on
these "core skills" will be much more effective than just
peppering your kids with advice as it pops into your head.
As for all those unused pebbles of wisdom, I'm thinking of using
mine to build a life-size replica of the Great Wall of China.
Now if I can just figure out what to do with all the
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is the writer/producer of a series
of Asperger Syndrome-related videos, including: "Asperger
Syndrome Dad: Becoming An Even Better Father To Your Child With
Copyright 2005 Dan Coulter All Rights Reserved Used By
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