In my opinion, both as a parent of children on the spectrum and as an autism professional, one of the hardest thing to teach a child with autism is how to ask for help. There are many reasons for this. First, they need to realize that they have people in their life who want to help them. This requires Theory of Mind. Also, they need to have the understanding that there could actually be a solution to their problem. This is especially difficult when you are upset (you need to have the ability to calm yourself when you’re in this state, which can also be difficult for a person with ASD). Finally, every person with autism has aspects of their thinking style that can make asking for help difficult. Even people who are not on the spectrum can struggle with this for various reasons.
Recently, my son had a difficult experience at university. The power went out over much of campus and he had a hard time dealing with this. Because of the outage, one of his classes was cut short. This would be a happy accident for most students, but not for my son. He’s frequently anxious, so I’m sure this situation started the process of him becoming dis-regulated. When he left his class, I have no doubt that he was a little “off.”
Later, he went out to pick up his dinner. The place was closed because the power was out there, also. I am sure this added to his anxiety. That evening, I called him to see how he was doing; his response began like this, “Well, here’s the thing…” Never a good way to start a conversation! The end result was that he had an apple and mini-donuts for dinner on top of having an all-around tough day.
We live about two miles from campus. My son knows how close we are. There are MANY takeout restaurants in town. My son knows this. I thought he knew that we would help if he was hungry or needed some support in getting his dinner, but maybe I’m wrong. I know it isn’t the end of the world if he misses a meal, but that isn’t the point. Why didn’t he ask us for help when it’s so apparent to us that he needed it?
Now, I have a new plan. We’ve decided to talk about each day’s events using the terms “expected events” and “unexpected events.” This is a concrete way of discussing what happened without labeling situations as “good” or “bad.” (I find that using a positive language to describe events helps keep his anxiety at bay, which helps him stay calm) The new rule is that when something unexpected happens, he has to let us know about it. Then, we talk about how the situation could be helped by asking for help. Hopefully, this will avoid “you should have” or “why didn’t you” conversations, and instead offer opportunities to practice making choices and recognize where there are opportunities to ask for help. Stay tuned…