Sometimes, the smallest changes can make the biggest impact in our lives. For Asperkids that’s particularly true. Whether you cut out the tag in a shirt or try keyboarding instead of longhand essays, when you remove an obstacle – no matter how insignificant it may seem to you – you empower your Aspie to be her best (unencumbered) self.
Want an example?
You know what I always say – make it fun, and you make it stick.
So let’s be inspired by a game….CandyLand.
First, get in your Asperkid’s, “the game player’s,” shoes. Imagine yourself, staring at the disaster that’s been left by the tornado of before-school-craziness. Dishes are piled. Half-eaten bits of toast lay on the floor. Countertops look more like storage facilities. How do you feel? Stressed? Overwhelmed? Annoyed? Whatever your answer IS, I am certain that it is NOT “inspired and energized.” There’s a mountain of chaos in front of you – and the idea of closing your eyes and walking away is very, very appealing. You’re tired before you’ve begun!
That’s How It Feels
That’s how an Asperkid feels when faced with many of the demands life puts in front of him. What teachers (and even we, their parents) can mistake for a “lack of motivation” isn’t really apathy. ”A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” Ghandi said. But it’s still a long journey. And if your attention, endurance or confidence isn’t super-high, you’re going to turn around and say, “Forget it, Ghandi.”
Asperkids struggle with “executive functioning.” Think of that as the “executive” – the “boss” in charge of everything else: controlling impulsiveness, enduring tedium, plain old stick-to-it-iveness. For someone who sees an endless journey (or an endless amount of homework or laundry or whatever else) and can’t plan out the route or spot the way-points, the feeling of being overwhelmed and unable to begin is completely stifling.
Adults will probably first see task avoidance – stalling, ignoring, joking around. That’s “white flag” number one. Next will be fidgeting or restlessness when challenged by his lack of progress. That’s anxiety, by the way, not rudeness – and it’s “white flag” number two. And if there’s more “push” without support, the next step is explosion – either outward (at you, at the teacher, at an innocent sibling) or inward (depression, self-harm, and a general feeling of “I’m so stupid” or “I can’t do anything anyway”). And notice – there’s still no progress.
How To Progress
Which, by the way, is the key word: progress. Think of your Asperkid as “nearsighted.” Goals that are “too far away” are, essentially, out of sight. What everyone needs is a CandyLand board. Well, OK, not an actual board, but the image of one. Remember the winding path? The overall trail is long. Each turn, however, is short – just one or two colored tiles – and then the action keeps going. Progress. In bite-sized pieces. If you and/or your Asperkid’s teachers can help to keep their momentum going while staying on track towards the final destination – everyone wins.
So try this. Create an actual visual “map” of have-to-do’s and want-to-do’s broken up into short “turns” with frequent rest-stops. And remember how many small parts are involved in each larger task.
Have-To-Do’s Lead to Want-To-Do’s
For example, if your Asperkid has ten minutes of reading to do before playtime, then, the “Game Board” would look like this:
It’s easy to do, it doesn’t take long, and it makes long journeys – “insurmountable” mountains of tough stuff – doable.
Got it? Great. Then one last “in their shoes” exercise, and you’ll be ready to go.
Break It Down
Do you like to play tennis? Or read? Or jog? Or paint? Imagine you are spending a leisurely morning, wholly engrossed in your favorite activity. Life is good. Now, imagine that there’s a foghorn blasting nearby. And a strobe light. And you have to play (or read or whatever else) with that neighbor you don’t like – or that bossy gal from the PTA. Still having fun?
When your Asperkid has to engage in activities in an environment that taxes their attention and stamina and/or is expected to collaborate with people who makes him nervous or upset or unhappy, most of life feels like a Have-to-Do. Temper that world with uninterrupted downtime, sensory breaks and the chance to enjoy the process of supported learning.
The road to success is sweet. And it’s simple. Break it up. Break it down. Make it clear. Make it fun. And you know what else? A lollipop along the way never hurt anyone, either.
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