Parents ask me all the time, “How can I believe in my child when the professionals tell me he is low functioning and has a low IQ? How can I believe in my child when I’m dead tired and overwhelmingly frustrated with their challenging behaviors?”
My response is that you must believe in your child. They can certainly tell if you do or don’t, and if they sense your lack of belief, it can be debilitating for them.
Tito Mukhopadhyay is a remarkably articulate and amazing young man with autism who communicates through his exquisite writings. Years ago he wrote about his experiences of going to a therapist as a young child. He spoke about his extreme sensitivity to the therapist’s thoughts, feelings and mood. You can learn more about autistic children’s documented intuitive capabilities here.
He wrote that if he could feel the therapist believing in him, he could accomplish whatever tasks he needed to during his therapy. If he could feel the therapist’s unconscious doubt in him, he’d lose confidence and almost certainly fail.
The only variable was the adult in front of him either believing in him or not.
When I read this, I decided to do my own experiment. I decided to see if Tito’s experience was specific to him or actually experienced by other children with autism. So my occupational therapy practice became my little laboratory. I would select certain clients to believe in, and others that I would not. I would do the same tasks with all of these clients, including fine and gross motor skills. I would sit across or next to them and in my mind say, “I totally believe in you” or, “I don’t believe in you.”
I kept my facial expression and body language neutral when working with both groups. I noticed that those I believed in were able to do the tasks I assigned. Maybe not fully or perfectly but they certainly performed much better than on the days when I did not believe in them. If I believed in them, I noticed they were more relaxed and smiled at me.
If I conveyed disbelief, they shut down, moved away from me, and become more distracted and fidgety. They had a much harder time performing and were more stressed. When I started believing in them again during later sessions they started to relax and enjoy themselves again. They also displayed increased accuracy of their skills. It was so amazing to see it in action!
I became a believer, not just in this theory, but in how incredibly intuitive and sensitive these autistic children really are. When one is not-so-verbal, the brain starts to rewire and amplify other senses to help them makes sense of things. In this case their intuition for knowing what people are thinking and feeling. This is similar to when blind people get extremely amplified and sensitive hearing capabilities.
I have been astounded over the years by how much the caregiver’s belief or disbelief affects these children. They are exquisitely sensitive, perceptive, and instantly pick up on the thoughts and feelings of others. And do not be fooled if they seem to be ignoring you. I have found so many of these children who know exactly what is going on, yet don’t have the physical means to express or communicate that they do indeed understand you.
Lori Shayew of The Gifts of Autism says, “Presume intelligence with all children with autism. Presume all of them are hearing you.” Therefore, I am keenly aware when I work with anyone with autism, that no matter their age, standardized “IQ” or other developmental testing results, I believe that they can do all kinds of things!
I am not talking about being in denial. I’m talking about empowerment by moving beyond the diagnosis, and encouraging you to believe in your child’s greatest potential. I expand more on these thoughts in my New York Times best selling(just kidding!!) free eBook, Autism Simplified for Parents. It’s a quick and easy read with tons of useful, actionable information that will make your parenting life easier.
Love, hope and blessings to you all!