April is “Autism Awareness Month,” intended to dedicate time to sharing stories and experiences of those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their loved ones. ASD is considered a spectral disorder, meaning that those with ASD experience symptoms that can “range from gifted to severely challenged.” ASD is characterized by challenges in socialization, communication, and behaviors. For parents of kids with ASD, they might struggle to connect with their kids. Understanding the perspective of kids with ASD and why they might struggle to connect with others can help us find ways to build relationships with our children.
Why Do Kids with ASD Struggle with Socializing?
Kids with ASD might struggle to socialize with others due to intense sensory experiences, difficulty with emotional regulation, and impairments in theory of mind (ToM).
Intense Sensory Experiences
For a person with ASD, they might have intense sensitivities to external stimuli. Specific sounds, sights, tastes, smells, and touches might be overwhelming for kids with ASD. A person without ASD might not understand why their child struggles to make eye contact, attend large gatherings, or avoids hugs. While these types of stimuli are typical for those without ASD, someone with ASD might appear to overreact to them. Overwhelming sensations can cause a person with ASD to act aggressively to get away from the stimulation.
Difficulty with Emotional Regulation
Once a person is so overwhelmed by external stimuli, they might have difficulty regulating their emotional responses. Often, they might just need to get away from the stimuli and triggers that cause them distress. Even after getting away, they might need additional time to calm down. Due to the inability to avoid many of these external stimuli, a child with ASD might have a low tolerance for frustration, impacting their ability to regulate emotions.
Impairments in Theory of Mind (ToM)
Individuals with ASD also struggle with a skill called “Theory of Mind (ToM).” ToM is a skill that kids begin to develop around the ages of four to five. ToM is essential for developing empathy and understanding others. Children with an under-developed ToM might struggle to understand that other people have a different perspective than theirs. For example, younger kids around age 3 or 4 might look at a photograph, asking questions about it from across the room, without realizing that the other person cannot see the picture.
Kids with ASD might not have a well-developed ToM, which makes it challenging to connect with others. They might appear to exist in their own world, assuming that everyone experiences things precisely as they do. However, though they might not understand our perspectives on things, we might need to meet kids halfway and understand their world view.
Connecting to Those with ASD
Parents might struggle with kids with ASD because they cannot connect in the same ways they might connect with other children. They might feel distraught that their child does not want to hug them or spend much time together. However, what if, instead of forcing kids with ASD to connect on our terms, we entered their world?
During a chat with Robert Bernstein on “Beyond Risk and Back,” Fire Mountain’s Aaron Huey discusses the value of having a child with ASD take the lead during interactions. When one of a person’s primary impairments is difficulty understanding other people’s perspectives, we need to consider their perspective.
Parents might struggle to look at their child’s ASD in this way. They might expect that kids need to interact in the same ways as all other kids. However, kids with ASD experience the world differently than most other people. They might hear, feel, see, smell, and taste so intensely that we cannot even imagine their experience. They might notice the minor details in a painting that we overlook. Imagine that we “flip the script” and ask, “what can I learn from my kid, rather than what I need to teach them?”
All People Have a Different Perspective
In other words, the best way to connect with our kids with ASD is similar to how we connect with others. No two people have the same perspective on things. We all experience things differently and celebrate these nuanced differences. When we ask others about their experiences, that is how we connect with others. We share our experiences while they share theirs and connect with others when our experiences overlap. We also connect when others trust us enough to share and disclose their innermost views of themselves and the world around them.
April is Autism Awareness Month, and this is a time for people to share their experiences with ASD. Parents of kids with ASD might struggle to feel like they can connect with their children. Kids with ASD experience a range of symptoms across the Autism Spectrum. Kids with ASD can experience mild social and communication impairments, while others may struggle to speak at all. When attempting to connect with kids with ASD, we often wish that they could express affection and show their love the way other kids do. However, what if we instead tried to show them love, in the way they would like to receive it? By “flipping the script,” we can learn to value their different perspectives on the world. In this way, they can meet us halfway and build skills to understand our views as well. Kids with ASD might struggle to fit in with others. They might be bullied or vulnerable to feeling like they do not belong. If your child is struggling with addiction or other challenging behaviors in an attempt to deal with painful emotions, Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center is here to help. Call us today at (303) 443-3343.