By Dan Coulter
It's hard to overstate the value of self-esteem. It supercharges our brains to give us ideas and energy. It makes us feel and look better. But the dark side to this equation is that a lack of self-esteem has the opposite effect.
What can you do when your child with Asperger Syndrome gets down on himself because of constant assaults on his or her self-esteem? Here are some suggestions.
Encourage your child to talk about what's happening in his life that makes him feel down. Don't feel obligated to make suggestions in that first conversation. You need to make sure you understand the situation or you risk offering solutions that he feels he can't make work. Tell him you care about him and that you want to work with him to make things better.
Become a detective for your child. Seek out objective information from other people in his life. People like teachers, counselors, siblings, and parents of his classmates. Get as complete a picture as possible of how other people see your child and their impressions of what's going on.
As you get more information, continue to encourage your child to talk with you. The more you learn, the better questions you can ask to fill in your dossier. When you're confident you have a good understanding of what's bringing your child down, research solutions.
In person and online autism/Asperger support groups can be gold mines of information. You can ask and hear what others have done that worked in similar situations. Do Internet searches. Find relevant books in your local library. Your school guidance counselor may be able to offer valuable, and free, advice.
There's no cookie cutter approach that will work for everyone. You have to become the expert on your child. I used to work in a headquarters group in a major corporation for a boss who realized the value of customizing an approach. When we prepared resources for people in our field locations, we'd research needs and present what he called a “smorgasbord” of materials so they could select the ones that would work in their part of the country. The more solutions you research, the more likely you are to discover strategies and tactics that will work for your child.
Many solutions involve helping your child modify his behaviors AND helping others to see things from his perspective. He may be depressed because he feels he's alone and no one understands him. And, based on his limited experience, he may be convinced that no one could understand. So whatever solutions you try may take time and patience.
When you're ready to act, enlist your child in the solutions by explaining what you've found, what you want to do, and his or her role. Use his or her input to customize your plans. Getting your child's buy-in can be a big factor in having your solutions succeed. You don't have to tell him everything. You may want to keep to yourself some of the ways you want to change YOUR behaviors in dealing with your child. But make the overall plan a joint effort. Emphasize how making these plans succeed can make things better.
Here are some solutions I know of that parents have used to help build their children's self-esteem:
Praise your child. Constantly seek out opportunities to offer valid compliments and kudos. Don't make stuff up. Phony praise undercuts the real compliments.
Seek out social skills classes for your child or do social skills training at home. A lack of social skills can cause other children to ignore or harass your child. Few things are more damaging to self-esteem.
Have a school counselor or other adult assigned so your child can seek that person out during the school day if he feels overwhelmed and needs support. See if your school can assign your child a student mentor or buddy who can eat lunch with her.
When a child who gets overwhelmed doesn't need active support, it can be helpful to designate a quiet place to go to calm down. One of our son's teachers put a sofa in the back of her room where he could go. Another student knew she could go and sit in a chair near the school principal's secretary when she needed to.
Work with the school to set up opportunities for your child to succeed in front of classmates and teachers. If he has a special interest or talent, perhaps he can show it off in a class presentation or school talent show.
Get your child involved in a school club with other children who share her interests.
Work with your other children to help them understand their sibling's challenges and be supportive, at home and at school.
Be aware of fashion trends and help your child to wear clothing that won't stand out as odd or different. If your child is sensitive to tight clothing or certain fabrics, you may have to work within these restrictions, but you won't know how much you can do until you try.
Work with your child's school to identify and eliminate bullying.
At the end of a school year, lobby for understanding teachers the following year. Most schools resist letting parents request specific teachers, but it's often effective to meet with administrators, review your child's needs, and describe the teaching approach that works best for him. This gives the school the opportunity to make a match that works well for both student and teacher – and avoid potential problems. Our son flourished under teachers who provided structure, but were flexible.
Identify specific problems that have straightforward solutions. Our son was overwhelmed by the noise in his elementary school cafeteria, so a teacher allowed him to bring his lunch into her room and eat in relative quiet. It was an elegant solution.
Have accommodations written into a child's individual education plan (IEP) to deal with specific challenges. A bright child may have low self esteem from doing poorly in school for reasons accommodations can address. Our son struggled with handwriting and benefited dramatically when he was allowed to use a laptop computer to take notes and do assignments.
Consider disclosing your child's diagnosis to classmates. We've seen classmates who ostracize a child for odd behaviors become supportive when they understand the reasons for those behaviors.
Seek professional help. Some challenges require more resources than we parents can muster by ourselves. In my experience, a counselor, therapist or other professional who is experienced in Asperger Syndrome is the most likely to be able to provide the kind of help we're seeking.
Parents who've found solutions to their child's low self esteem have been heard to say, “He's like a different person!” That different, happier, person may be locked inside your child. Your efforts may be the keys to letting him out.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is the author of the DVDs “Managing Puberty, Social Challenges and (Almost) Everything: A Video Guide for Girls,” and “Asperger Syndrome for Dads.” You can find more articles and information on his website: coultervideo.com.
Copyright 2013 Dan Coulter Used By Permission All Rights Reserved