By Raising Children Network
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Smiling boy with ASD (c) Massier
When you recognise and build on the strengths, interests and talents of your child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), you can develop and strengthen your child’s confidence and self-esteem. Everyday activities give you lots of opportunities to do this.

Why confidence is important

Children who are confident can cope better when things go wrong. They’re less likely to feel afraid in new or unexpected situations.

But children with low self-confidence can be upset when they face difficulties, and might be less likely to try new things. They’re more likely to be hard on themselves and might think they ‘can’t do anything right’, regardless of their ability.

Children’s confidence grows when they ‘taste’ success and understand that they’re good at things. By paying special attention to your child’s strengths, you can develop and strengthen her confidence and self-esteem.

The difficulties that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have often become the centre of attention. But these children have lots of strengths too, so building their confidence by focusing on what they’re good at is especially important and helpful.

Identifying your child’s strengths

It’s not always easy to see the strengths of your child with ASD. Here are some tips that might help you recognise them.

  • Think about your child’s interests and write down the things your child likes to do for fun. It might be sport, computer activities, puzzles, reading, Lego, dancing, singing, cooking, caring for pets, or spending time with some special people.
  • Watch your child interacting with other children in different settings, such as at home, child care, kindergarten or school. Ask yourself, ‘What kinds of things does my child enjoy doing with others?’
  • Pay particular attention to how your child relates to others, including you. Look out for things your child is good at. It might be sharing or taking turns or waiting.
  • Notice when your child follows your instructions well, or does things without you having to ask. In younger children, this might include putting toys away and helping to dress themselves. In older children, it might include making the bed and helping to clear the table. You can look at these things as your child’s personal strengths.
You can read more about helping your child develop everyday skills, building your child’s thinking and learning strengths and helping your child develop play skills.

Special interests can be strengths

Many children with ASD have special interests. You can see these as strengths and use them to improve your child’s learning, social skills and self-esteem.

For example, you could use a child’s interest in cars or trains to teach counting, by counting pictures of cars or trains. His enthusiasm for water could be a tool to teach self-help skills, such as taking a shower or bath and washing hands. A child who loves animals might get more interested in reading if the books are about animals. A child’s interest in a TV or movie character could be used to help him develop emotional regulation skills – ‘When Thomas the Tank Engine feels angry or upset, he finds a quiet place and takes three deep breaths’.

You can also use your child’s special interest to encourage and develop friendships. For example, if your child has a special interest in dolls, she might find it easier to relate to another child with the same special interest.

Building on your child’s strengths

Here are some ideas to help you with developing your child’s personal strengths, interests and talents.

Personalised strengths book
This is a unique and personal book about your child. It could include:

  • what your child likes to do
  • what your child is good at
  • what makes your child happy
  • who your child likes to spend time with and what he does with that person
  • what your child is currently learning
  • what your child wants to be when he grows up.

Strengths cards
Strengths cards are cards that illustrate different strengths, qualities or abilities. You can buy them, or you could make your own with your child.

To make them, cut out pictures from magazines that show various strengths and stick the pictures on cardboard. You could include strengths such as ‘I am brave’, ‘I am easy to get along with’, and ‘I am a good listener’.

Here are a couple of ways you can use the cards:

  • Spread the cards out and ask your child to choose a card for herself and each person in your family. You could also ask other family members to choose a card for your child. Spend time talking about the strengths with your child and the situations where your child shows these strengths.
  • Put the cards in a colourful bag. Each week ask your child to draw a card from the lucky dip. Notice and reward your child with praise and a sticker whenever he shows this strength.

Social Stories™
This is a highly structured program that uses stories to explain social situations to children with autism. It can also be used as a creative way to celebrate your child’s successes and talents. By putting details of your child’s success or talent and related photos or work samples into a story, you can create a positive record that can help your child understand her strengths and value.

You might like to read more about how Social Stories™ can be used to help your child develop new skills.

Everyone loves praise, and children love it most of all. So praise and encouragement are powerful ways to strengthen your child’s self-esteem. Praise your child’s effort, and describe exactly what it is that you like. For example, ‘Wow! You’ve really worked hard at building that house’, or ‘I really appreciate that you helped unload the dishwasher’.
  • Last updated or reviewed 21-11-2013
  • Acknowledgements This article was developed in collaboration with Susana Gavidia-Payne, RMIT University.