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Strategy Overview for Empowering child/ adult-child w/ Asperger's

As many parents, teachers and coaches may already know, when it comes to getting new 'policies' accepted and integrated by a child/ adolescent/ young adult, it is important to note that it may be easier to have America embrace 'Obamacare,' with all its bells and whistles. To paint a picture, imagine that your child with identified Asperger's, a form of high-functioning autism, is the president of the country and he has veto power that is continuously exercised each time congress (parents/ teachers/ coaches) tries to pass a 'bill.' These 'bills' may be new activities, classes, tools, strategies, or anything that entails using mental flexibility and spoonfuls of social skill exercising. Your son has veto power by not going along with your suggestions, by dismissing parental attempts to get them out into the community, and by putting up a strong defensive posture which can be displayed in their demeanor, almost 24 hours a day.

Though it is important to tailor activities, strategies, and after-school activities to your child's interest, please note that commonly children and adults in this demographic tend to have a weak mental flexibility 'muscles.' Mental flexibility is an executive function skill that acts as a gatekeeper in the daily life of your child. You won't be able to get lasting positive momentum and progress unless you facilitate mental flexibility strengthening.

Strengthening your child's Mental Flexibility

This involves you learning about another executive function skill, metacognition. This means 'thinking about your thinking,' or 'thinking about how you approach the world with your thought process.' A common way that Coach Bill 'butters the rails' is by having on-going metacognitive conversations, WHILE doing something else. Chess, which is a super EF activity integrating almost all the known EF skills, provides an excellent context by which to start one of these conversations.

Certain ingredients need to be kept in mind at all times. These parameter ingredients serve to shape your tone of voice, your choice of words, how long you drive a point, and being able to know when you have 'pushed the envelope' far enough as you seek to coax your child towards insight. These ingredients are:

Paraverbal skill awareness: How you say what you say
Strategic/ tactical awareness: Knowing when to speak, be quiet, push the envelope, pull back, use humor (and not use humor)
Having a long-term view of success: Focus on winning the war, not the battles
Modeling the attitude of gratitude and lovingkindness via voice & mannerisms  
Integrating the 'growth mindset' into your positive reinforcement approach

In essence, your goal is to foster a 'shift' in their perspective on a certain issue. A shift in their mindset re-organizes thought and action because a goal has been changed. The shift in their thinking can be very quick, and can be seen as a 'mini-breakthrough.' Though you may have a 'breakthrough,' and your child may accept to start a new activity, like an age-appropriate yoga class, or dance class, don't forget that getting them to agree with you on the specific new activity is not the goal. The goal is to foster mental flexibility. Thus, for the child/ adult with Asperger's, these metacognitive conversations are the key to getting them to be more receptive and 'soften up.' Our ability to shift and transition from one activity to another, or from one feeling to another is mental flexibility. The activities and feelings matter, yet the 'shifting' exercise strengthens this particular EF skill.

Praising their 'shifting' on a given topic is smart, as is praising their emotional control, perseverance, and follow through. This is in line with the 'growth mindset,' which posits that we should 'praise the process, not the end result.' To illustrate this, imagine a young child is upset about losing a game. You could say, "it is not about winning or losing, but about doing your best, and having fun." Searching for how positives on how the child played, be it their super-focus, how they stayed attentive, or how they controlled how they felt during the game they lost, all show your kid that Mom and Dad are not concerned about who won or who lost, but how their child played the game. Please note that if your kid was horrendous on the soccer field and it is hard to praise, then you are forgetting that your kid made it to the soccer field. He had his gear on, showed up, and did try. Strain to find the positive.

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