Welcome parents, caregivers, and professionals! Our new nonprofit invites your engagement in services that provide support, guidance, and education. We’re here to empower young families living with autism.
Your relationship with your child is so important to his social and emotional well being — now and throughout his lifetime. You spend the most time living with and loving your child. You have the greatest commitment to his development and lifelong happiness. But autism can make it hard to connect with your child. And because each child expresses autism in an individual way, it can be a confusing, frustrating, and time consuming process to find ways to support your child’s specific needs. We know. We’re there too.
We believe that parents are the key to lifelong success for children living with autism. It is, after all, a diagnosis that involves the whole family. Our volunteer board of directors, our writers and our presenters are all personally engaged with autism. It is this personal connection that fuels our passion for sharing, with you, what we know. We are dedicated to building bridges between research, practice and everyday life. It is at this center that engagement, true engagement, begins.
We’re here to help foster your child’s growth and development – and realize the joy of nurturing your child. Join our blog where we provide a place for everyone to learn and grow.
Helping Gifted Children with Autism Succeed
Maureen Neihart, PsyD, shared a lot of information with us at our Lecture Series devoted to 2E (twice exceptional) children on the autism spectrum. Using the latest research in the field, she highlighted the areas in which these children typically struggle. It was no surprise that the two most impacted areas are social/emotional skills and adaptive functioning. Yet, seeing the huge disparity between these kids’ cognitive profiles and other skill areas is illuminating. Gifted kids with autism fit the following profile:
Overall reasoning scores fell in the 99%
Daily living skills fell in the 20%
Functional communication skills fell in the 33%
So we focused most of the night’s discussion on how to address these areas of need. The guiding principle for supporting these kids, according to Neihart, is developing social competency while providing academic challenge. To achieve this overall goal, Neihart shared the Seven Skills Needed for Success:
Learning strategies that enhance ability
Use of technological aids
Use of other people as role models and support
Developing a will to succeed
Given that gifted kids with autism often struggle with social anxiety, Neihart shared specific tips for helping these kids cope in a school setting: 1. Learn to breathe (specifically belly breathing), 2. Learn how to relax (progressive relaxation of the body), 3. Keep moving toward the things that scare you
Additionally, she recommended Russell Barkley’s books as a framework for teaching social skills, and the Circle of Friends model for supporting these kids socially throughout their academic career. Finally she reminded everyone that the most effective intervention for gifted students is acceleration. Establishing the right social supports opens up this option for gifted children on the spectrum.
Nothing is more delightful than watching your child with autism excel. Pride overwhelms you, tears gather, and the future seems a lot less scary. I’ve been in this place many times, and it’s one of the gifts of autism – taking nothing for granted and celebrating the small triumphs that most families take for granted. We’ve been lucky as parents to have lots of these moments throughout our child’s academic journey as well. And I’m truly thankful that our child’s gifts are recognized by his school. It’s a tangible way to celebrate his unique mind, and we’ve added gifted and talented to our list of adjectives with which we describe our son’s personality.
But being gifted comes with its own mixed bag of “treats,” and when autism gets thrown in finding the right tools and the right community feels impossible. There are so many places that don’t fit our twice exceptional child that I sometimes wonder if we’ll ever find a place, outside our home, where he belongs.
We’re not alone in this paradox. Many children living with autism display amazing gifts that are often overshadowed by their unique challenges. At its core, autism is a communication disorder, one that is based in how the brain works. This makes seeing a child’s gifts difficult for those who are invested in a traditional concept of what “gifted and talented” looks like. Those children who are studious, quiet, socially and emotionally mature, who understand the rules intuitively along with the give and take of the academic setting are easily labeled as gifted. And they are who we all see in our mind’s eye when we hear that label.
Children who learn differently or have a developmental disorder do not present this perfect image. Too often gifted children with autism cannot show their exceptional talents in these expected ways. So, unseen, their talents are lost to us.
We know that gifted children that go unchallenged often fail in school. Behaviors take over their classroom time, and school becomes a place to be avoided. Gifted kids on the autism spectrum experience this as well, usually to a higher degree. In addition, research shows that their self-esteem suffers, and this issue coupled with their communication and social struggles can result in alternative placements that lack the academic rigor these children need to succeed. Or they are unable to access enrichment programs.
Our family experienced this first-hand. I signed my son up for a class that I knew would challenge and motivate him. I assumed he would fit right in in this class of gifted children with similar interests. While he was younger than most in the class I knew the material was well within his capabilities. And I wasn’t wrong about that. I was wrong, however, about the social environment. He was teased and left out by a group of other students and the teacher joined them in their contempt for my child’s lack of “social graces.” My son left that week-long class with no academic advancement and a huge hit to his self esteem. It was a disaster, and now a program that should be open to him as a gifted student is closed to him as a child living with autism.
So how do we keep this from happening? Knowing how to support twice exceptional children is essential to accessing their talents. My son needs more organizational and social support than other gifted kids. This doesn’t make him less gifted, in fact, in many ways he is more so, but it does make him more exceptional. Once we realize how these two neurological profiles work together – gifted and autism – we can tap into the unique talents these children have. Unraveling exactly how to support these learners begins with exploring the research and sharing what works with other parents and teachers. So join us at our next Lecture Series event – Helping Gifted Children on the Autism Spectrum Succeed with Maureen Neihart, PsyD.