Why confidence is important for autistic children and teenagers
Autistic children and teenagers who are confident can cope better when things go wrong. They’re less likely to feel afraid in new or unexpected situations.
But children and teenagers with low confidence can be upset when they face difficulties. They 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.
Confidence grows when children and teenagers have success and understand that they’re good at things. By paying special attention to your child’s strengths, you can develop and strengthen their confidence.
Identifying strengths in autistic children and teenagers
Here are some tips to help you recognise your child's personal strengths:
- 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, like 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, 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 be putting toys away and helping to dress themselves. In older children and teenagers, it might be making the bed and helping to put the laundry away.
Special interests: strengths for autistic children and teenagers
Many autistic children and teenagers have special interests. You can see these as strengths and use them to improve your child’s learning and social skills.
For example, you could use a child’s:
- interest in cars or trains to teach them counting, by counting pictures of cars or trains
- enthusiasm for water to teach them self-help skills, like taking a shower or bath and washing hands
- love of animals to develop an interest in reading, by looking at books about animals with them
- interest in a TV or movie character to develop skills for managing emotions – ‘When Harry Potter 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 computers, they might find it easier to relate to another child with the same special interest.
Building on strengths in autistic children and teenagers
Here are some ideas to help you with developing personal strengths, interests and talents in your autistic child.
Personalised strengths book
A personalised strengths book is a 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 they do together
- what your child is currently learning
- what your child wants to be when they grow up.
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 or the internet that show various strengths. Stick the pictures on cardboard. You could include strengths like ‘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 one card for themselves and one for 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. Throughout the week, notice and reward your child with praise and a sticker whenever they show this strength.
Social stories are stories that explain social situations to autistic children. You can also use them as creative ways to celebrate your child’s successes and talents. For example, you could write a social story about your child’s successes or talents and include related photos or work samples in it. This creates a positive record that helps your child understand their strengths and value.
Physical activities can build your child’s confidence by giving your child a sense of achievement when they master new skills. If your child does these activities with others, they can also be a good way for them to practise social skills.
Drama classes can give your child the opportunity to learn about feelings and interact with peers. Because drama classes are structured, they might cause less anxiety for your child. And role-play can give your child the opportunity to practise social skills and build confidence.