As a mom to two autistic children, I understand the sensitivity of raising kids on the autism spectrum. One of the paramount lessons I learned is how fundamental it is to help foster self-esteem in them from an early age.
I was keen to ensure my children had a positive self-image, so I dedicated effort to observing them and adapting my parenting strategies to their needs.
The challenge autistic children face
As they first joined kindergarten classes, one of my observations was that their frustration became increasingly evident when they failed to pick up instructions quickly.
My sons also became sensitive to attention, misinterpreting the actions of other children due to their lack of social and communication skills and the fear of not being accepted.
Recent research conducted by Meyer & his team (2006) suggests that autistic children can gravitate towards the misconstruction of social cues, perceiving them as criticism or disapproval, especially if the environment is unfamiliar or unpredictable.
In my sons’ case, it was evident that they perceived they were “in trouble” at school, causing a substantial decrease in their self-esteem.
Relational context intervention
To counteract this, I took it upon myself to borrow from research by Laible & Roesch (2004), which emphasises that self-esteem in children with autism is achieved through providing positive reinforcement in a relational context. In other words, children infer their worth when interacting with family members or peers and receiving acceptance, encouragement and guidance.
I started engaging my sons in praise, cooking and drawing together. We also dedicated time to discussing their successes and failures from school, followed by encouragement and guidance. This strategy worked wonders for my boys as it helped them develop confidence and self-worth and increased their engagement during class activities.
Mindfulness as an Intervention
I also introduced mindfulness practices such as yoga and meditation, as suggested by Singh et al. (2006) & (Ridderinkhof et al., 2018). According to the study, yoga and meditation were particularly beneficial for autistic children as they helped them to cope with stress and anxiety. Furthermore, the practice reduced hyperactivity levels and improved overall behaviour, enhancing self-esteem.
In our home, we set up a dedicated space for meditation with calming music playing in the background. We loved to exercise Tara Brach’s mudra, a mindfulness practice that involves repeating a phrase or affirmation while gently touching the heart and belly area. Drawing mandalas was also a fun way to help my sons relax, focus and express themselves creatively.
Our journey has been positive, and I am proud to see my sons becoming more confident in their ability to interact with their peers and learn new skills. And although we’ve had we have managed to nourish their self-esteem and create a safe environment for them to grow, I continue to understand & appreciate the vast aspects of how my autistic loved ones relate to the world.
I am continuously researching and exploring new strategies to help make their lives more meaningful. With consistent effort, I believe every child on the autism spectrum can experience a sense of confidence and worth that will help them embrace life and reach their full potential.