How do you make a child feel valued? B
oost their self esteem? Quite often the answer is to give them responsibility. Having a role or responsibility sends the message that you have been chosen, you can be trusted and you know what needs to be done. For autistic people this isn’t always the case.
When my son was in year 1 he was made playground monitor. There were six in his class and each child held the role for a term. On face value this is a fantastic way to give each child responsibility and feel valued. The role involved going out with a TA and making sure the slide and swing were dry before everyone else came out. For Pie, the reality of his term as playground monitor was stress alopecia and dramatic weight loss. He stopped eating lunch because all he could focus on was the pressure of being a playground monitor.
I remember an autistic child I taught, called T. T had the most amazing singing voice and enjoyed learning the piano. It was the one thing that they excelled in. As well as being good at singing they also enjoyed it.
T was the first each term to sign up for choir and would determinedly position themselves in the front row.
Each year there was a house singing competition. Each house was responsible for performing the same song but with their own unique additions of movement, soloists, small groups etc. It was the one school performance that I didn’t have input on.
A week before the competition, there was a gap in the front row of the school choir, T was not there. That lunchtime I learnt that T had been given a solo in their house performance. The teacher responsible for this decision was full of how talented T was and there was a critical tone when they said that they were surprised I hadn’t chosen them before.
I decided not to go into the reasons why they hadn’t. I didn’t need to because T went into a complete meltdown during the competition, left the school choir and stopped their piano lessons. The responsibility was too much. The pressure that put them under removed the joy and regulation that they had felt from music.
Some autistic people enjoy responsibility, but for some of us it adds pressure and stress which can result in a perceived positive becoming quite the opposite.