Recently, while completing a series of workshops at the Geneva Centre for Autism, we discussed that often we need to break down tasks into much more detailed, succinct steps for autistic kids and to regularly acknowledge the accomplishment for those steps. For instance, if a student needs to do his homework, you could simply instruct a neurotypical child, “Finish your math homework.” However, for an autistic child, there is a need to break down tasks. For example, it may include:

  1. Get a pencil.
  2. Make sure it’s sharpened.
  3. Take out your math homework.
  4. Check your agenda to see which questions are assigned.
  5. Finish question 1.
  6. Take a 5 minute break.
  7. Finish question 2.
  8. etc.

With a neurotypical child, we may give 1 acknowledgement in this scenario: “Hey, way to finish your homework!” For an autistic child, there are now 7 acknowledgements based on the first 7 steps. Those seven acknowledgements help propel a sense of success that sometimes feels less attainable for autistic kids.

One story was shared how a teacher kept telling a mother every day what her child did wrong. It reminded me of a quote suggesting that it takes nine positive statements to balance the effects of one negative statement.  If this is true, the negative statements (without any positive statements) the teacher gave continues to compound a sense of negativity and failture in all parties (student, parent, teacher). However, positive acknowledgements of even the smallest victories (e.g. “He was able to draw quietly for 2 minutes.”) help to minimize the effects of the negative statements.

Those acknowledgements we give to our autistic kids (or anyone else for that matter) isn’t just to make the trivial seem more important than it really is. What it does is provide a “bank” of positive effects which can be used to help counter whatever negative effects that come their way.

Who have you acknowledged well today? What’s the most subtle item you acknowledged in another person?

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