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Setting Smarter Goals

By Dan Coulter

When you do a home project, does your child with Asperger Syndrome or autism get in the way? Let’s say you’re going to replace a faucet in your kitchen. You ask your son to help. But he constantly complains about being bored. When you ask him to go into the garage for a screwdriver, he forgets to come back and you have to go after him. When you ask him to hold a flashlight for you, he repeatedly gets distracted and lets the light wander. Your wrench slips and you skin your knuckles.

In this sort of situation, it’s easy to get mad and lecture your son, or tell him he’s not helping and send him away, or keep him by your side while you stew in silence, but vow to exclude him from your next project.

You don’t go into the project intending to get impatient with your child or shut him out. Afterwards, you may regret the way you reacted. But you programmed your brain to accomplish a goal, to fix a faucet. Focused on that goal, your brain interprets your son’s actions as interference, and you get frustrated.

What if you set a smarter goal? What if you define your goal as fixing the faucet while showing your son a good time? That programs your brain with a different set of expectations and you’re likely to prepare and react differently.

Maybe instead of just pulling out your tools, you also assess your child’s interests and capabilities before you start. You give him tasks that will interest him and prepare yourself to be patient if he doesn’t do things perfectly. If he’s younger, maybe you pull your tools from the tool box and have your son sort them. When he’s a bit older, maybe you have him turn the wrench while you hold the light. If the job goes slower and isn’t done perfectly, just adequately, your brain stills gives you credit for succeeding with your broader goal of making this a fun experience for your son.

Some parents do this intuitively. But the rest of us can do it, too. We just have to make a special effort until it becomes routine. It took me a while to build this into my thinking. But as I got better at it, my son and I started getting along better.

And, by finding ways to include our sons and daughters in small projects in positive ways, we help them learn practical skills and gain confidence.

Small things add up.

If you think of life as a race, we all get to the finish line one way or another. The real trick isn’t winning at the end. It’s finding ways to win every day, along the way.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Dan Coulter is the producer of the DVD videos “Understanding Brothers and Sisters with Asperger Syndrome” and “Understanding Brothers and Sisters with Autism.”

Copyright 2007 Dan Coulter All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

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