Aidan and his laundromat birthday party

Aidan loves washing machines. Miranda shares why it’s important to follow your child’s lead.

Follow the Leader

By Miranda Steffen

When children show a knack or interest in a particular activity, parents tend to go above and beyond to help them thrive. If a child takes a liking to a soccer ball they get on Christmas, they are enrolled and on a team by spring. Say they have a penchant for drawing. Art classes abound! So why do we, as parents, hesitate to embrace the other things our kids with autism love: vacuums, desk lamps, and tape, oh my?!

Your child’s passion is their strength. Use this as a map to help create meaningful short and long term goals.

Aiden

When we threw my son a birthday party at his favorite laundromat, we were sure our typical friends would shut us down. On the contrary, I have never seen such an inclusive community snapshot than being in the midst of washing machines and friends of all abilities. Laundry-related words have helped us kickstart speech, challenging behavior, and sets our sights on a long-term goal my son has had for years: Washing Machine Fixing Guy. Recently, I was at our Capitol talking with a Senator who met with my son’s class earlier in the year to celebrate Autism Awareness Day. She told him she had a friend with an appliance repair shop and that he may be able to shadow a few days for some on-the-job training. We took his “silly obsession” as a toddler and have embraced it to the point that at nearly 14, he has an opportunity I would have never thought possible 10 years ago at diagnosis.

If your child uses a reward board or a token system, try using pictures of vacuums as you make your way to the desired reward. If you have an anxious child who enjoys the soothing glow of a desk lamp, write in a desk lamp for their desk during your next IEP meeting. A tape loving teen would be a valuable aide to the teacher always hanging up new things in their class. Heck, a LOT of clubs hang things up and down their school’s hallways! Find a club leader and explain the passion. Sure, some people will say no because let’s face it, we don’t live in an inclusive utopia. But Parents…some of them WILL say YES. That’s how you create change.

Every child deserves to be a thriving member of their community. One of the greatest barriers to an inclusivity is awareness. As parents, we want the world to embrace our child, but we need to remember that includes all of our child’s gifts, even the “quirky” ones. Start small and think big: you never know where you and your child’s puzzle-pieced road will go next.

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Miranda is the mom of four boys ranging from preschooler to young adult. One of her sons was diagnosed with autism in 2007, and today, she’s a freelance writer with a focus on ASD and advocacy. Follow her on her website RealLifeAutism.com

1 Comment

  • I love this!!! The party should be about the child/person and what they like, how they want to celebrate! My son Jeremy said that once (with his voice output technology) when presenting at an inclusion conference. At the time, the crowd did not really appreciate that inclusion is not about sticking the child in ‘normal’ situations, but finding away to connect that is enjoyed by the child you are trying to include – and especially re birthday parties. What does the child see as a birthday party He / she would enjoy? Not just doing what we assume every child wants. Nice blog!

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