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Drop the Deficit Mentality: Autistic People Have Dreams Too

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Sometimes people see a person on the autism spectrum and they think about all of the limitations. Truly, though, our autistic children have sparks inside of them that have yet to be ignited. When I look for those sparks in my son, I can see the abilities that have yet to be explored. Instead of thinking about what my son can’t do, I should spend more time focusing on what he can do. As Temple Grandin says, “There needs to be a lot more emphasis on what a child can do instead of what they cannot do.” On our bad days, I admit there is quite a bit of difficulty on focusing on the sparks inside of him. What if I focused on more on his strengths, though? 

10 Strengths My Autistic Son Demonstrates

1. He shows great ability to empathize with others. When I’m sad, he hugs me. When someone is hurt, he runs away because he cannot handle their pain. People assume autistic people have no empathy, but that’s not true. In fact, he shows a great deal of empathy.

2. His memory is fantastic. He can tell us what type of car passed by us with 100-percent accuracy every single time. He has memorized the symbols. Additionally, he knows what the body of each type of car looks like. Imagine the potential there.

3. In his mind, he can compute numbers using rules he learned long ago. He often challenges himself (and us) to figure out how to add multiple numbers together without actually writing them down.

4. A great capacity to love exists within him. He loves everybody. In fact, he shows us this all the time by giving hugs and kisses. Yes, that’s right, my son shows love.

5. When he sees a way to help someone, he jumps in and does it. He loves helping people. If we say something like, “Oh no! The cat is hungry. Who will feed her?” he literally runs toward the cat food and feeds the cat before anyone else can take his job.

6. Imagination. Yes, he has an imagination. He can imagine and act out what the dog might say when he refuses to go outside. He can imagine, but he has a hard time putting it into words or writing it down. Listen to him speak, though, and you hear it.

7. His self-awareness is outstanding. I can see that he understands what he has a hard time with and what he does well. He knows if he sees storm clouds coming, he will need his headphones. If there is a crowd, he knows he will need to find a safe space to take a break. I only wish other people were more aware of how to help him during these times because sometimes he doesn’t have what he needs even if he knows he will have trouble. This is not a weakness on his part. He knows what he needs. What he really needs is more people who understand his needs.

8. He keeps his brother safe. Given his past experiences, he can recognize signs of danger and will fiercely protect his brother.

9. Some say that flattery will get you nowhere, but my son knows how to schmooze for sure. Indeed, he tells just about every woman he meets how beautiful she is. He also tells men they are handsome. His newest thing is to say, “I’m going to tell on you,” and then he tells someone how someone has been nice to him or how someone has helped someone else out. He means every word of what he says, and genuine compliments mean more than the empty ones some people give.

10. This beautiful child of mine knows how to work a schedule, tell time, and, in fact, keeps us on schedule. If I listened to him more often, I would probably be late less often. My new strategy is to tell him what time we need to leave the house. He will always tell me when it is time to leave.

Why We Shouldn’t Ignore These Sparks of Intelligence

As Temple Grandin says, “You have got to keep autistic children engaged with the world. You cannot let them tune out.” How often do we tune out children? How often do we speak about them as if they aren’t there? How often do we fail to allow them to use their strengths to engage with the world? Dr. Lovaas says, “If they can’t learn the way we teach, we teach the way they learn.” All of this makes sense. Take a look at my son’s strengths. See the potential. He deserves to learn and be around other people and feel loved for who he is even if sometimes it becomes difficult for him. Where you see a spark, there is a fire. And when you see a fire, you look for tinder to keep the fire going. It’s time to stop extinguishing the sparks in our children and see their potential.

What sparks will you ignite in your child today?

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Originally published: August 26, 2016
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