As a parent of a child with autism, there are so many things that demand your attention: appointments, therapies, household chores, careers, and you know, the day-to-day rigamarole. Unfortunately, this sometimes hectic life can make it very difficult for parents to genuinely connect with their autistic child. And connecting with a child with autism can be quite challenging, even when you do have the time. So why is it so important that we do?
The benefits of deepening your connection with your child are too many to list, but here are just a few:
- A better understanding of your child’s needs
- A better understanding of your child’s triggers
- A calmer child and parent
- A more attentive child
- A more trusting child
- A faster learning child
- A happier, calmer household
There are many things that get in the way of connecting with an autistic child. Some I mentioned in the introductory paragraph, but my experience is that verbal communication can be a big impediment. A connection between two people is a feeling. We can tell someone we love them, but if they can’t feel it, there is no connection. Creating a deep connection goes well beyond words. And this is great for autistic children who often struggle with verbalizing themselves.
There are so many ways we can connect with our children without saying a word. Maybe it is a shared embrace or a deep stare, singing or listening to a favorite song together. These methods are particularly comfortable for not-so-verbal children because there is no pressure of language to get in the way of making the connection.
The language autistic children best respond to is our love, understanding, and providing safe boundaries. Scientists at Heartmath.com have shown that emotions, such as love, actually do flow from the magnetic field generated by our heart. Our overactive minds like to over-complicate everything, but real connection starts from being heart-centered in your approach to parenting.
What Does It Mean To Have a Heart-Centered Connection?
Being around someone who you have a heart-centered connection with feels wonderful. They accept us for exactly who we are. They listen to us, care about us, cheer for us, and are genuinely interested in how we feel. This person wants the best for us, sees the best in us, and helps us grow. Take a moment and think about some of the heart-centered people you may know. Reflect on how much they’ve impacted your life.
To be heart-centered with an autistic child is a balance between, on one hand, accepting your child for who they truly are, and on the other, doing what’s necessary to help them grow. One important aspect to keep in mind with growth, is having a calm and loving mindset, while at the same time having a deliberate, and firm structure. For example, a coach artfully combines a heartfelt passion for the one they’re helping by offering inspiration and setting limitations and rules.
The amazing thing about autistic children is that they have a keen sense for knowing how much you accept and believe in them. This was covered in detail in my last blog post, Why Believing in Your Autistic Child Makes All the Difference.
What Does a Heart-Centered Connection with Your Child Look Like?
- Being present and available to your child when they spontaneously approach you.
- Learning how to slow down and calm yourself, because if you are anxious, your child will likely be too. This is called “mirroring.”
- Enjoying them in the simple exchanges.
- Looking at your child with joy and appreciation and expressing it regularly.
- Communicating firmly instead of giving in when your child is demanding or tantruming.
- Realizing the importance of downtime with your child.
- Being safe, open, warm, and inviting to your child.
Examples of Heart-Centered Parenting that Creates Deep Connection
When your heart is in the driver’s seat there are innumerable ways to create a deeper connection. Here are just a few.
When a child is requesting contact like a hug, drop what you are doing that moment (i.e. the dishes) and just give them a hug. Spend some time each day to just enjoy hanging out with your child like a friend. Once you’re both relaxed, you can easily transition to helping your child develop new skills.
When you are packing your child’s lunch or preparing them a meal, be conscious of your thoughts. Think warmly about how much they will enjoy it and how the food will nurture them. Write a sweet note to put in their lunchbox. Even if they can’t “read” it, they will get the message. They will feel the love you put into the food.
Do little things each day to show your child how much you care about them. Build the connection by infusing your actions with the love that they need. For example, this is how Danelle Shouse, a friend and parent of a 5 year old not-so-verbal autistic child, packs a heart-centered lunch for her daughter:
“This is one way I pack love into Olivia’s lunch. I carve the message in
the banana with a toothpick and by lunchtime the letters brown. She sees “I love you” and can feel I took an extra minute to let her know she is thought about and loved.
I noticed when I am present in making her lunch she has a better chance of eating it. When I cut the sandwiches in shapes or even just make the choice of what to put in her lunch box, I lead with love. I do not throw food together in a panic. I consciously choose foods that will nurture her and that she enjoys. I make it an opportunity to let her know she is seen, heard, understood, and loved.”
There are many benefits to creating a deeper, more heart-centered connection with your child. They feel taken care of and trust that you will meet their needs. They feel understood and safe because you are providing them with clear boundaries. And they are able to relax and better follow directions.
The connection will also help foster a calmer environment in which you can develop necessary structures that reduce their tantrums and meltdowns. Your child will understand that you are genuinely trying to help. I expand more on these thoughts and others in my 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.