Parents of children with autism do such an incredible job of holding their children’s hands through tough therapy sessions, emotional outbursts, and visits to medical specialists that parents sometimes forget to let go.
To remind me to give my son the space he needs to develop independence, I think of a simple quote from Italian physician, philosopher, and educator Maria Montessori: “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.”
Montessori worked and conducted research in institutions for children with intellectual disabilities in the late 1800s and advocated on their behalf for specialized care and instruction. She developed the Montessori philosophy of education that empowers children to advance their development with teachers working as guides to assist the process.
Many parents of children with autism are already experts with common Montessori principles, such as emphasizing sensory play in education, focusing on one skill at a time, and demonstrating a skill step by step instead of merely explaining it.
Other ideas are harder to master, such as observing what a child does when he or she encounters a problem, waiting to see if other children will help before jumping in, and knowing when to help and when to step back.
Independence does not develop magically overnight—for either the child or the parents; it requires a lot of practice as well as mental preparedness. If the first time a family experiences independence is when the young adult with autism is moving into his or her own apartment, the experience is sure to be unsettling for everyone. But if parents encourage small independent experiences while the child is growing up, then both the parents and the child will be better prepared when facing bigger life adjustments and taking steps toward independence.
Following some Montessori teachings while the child is still young may help. For more about the Montessori method, visit http://www.montessori.edu/method.html.
Sun contributor Cory Gilden is the parent of a son on the spectrum, an autism advocate, and dedicated member of Autism Delaware’s newsletter committee as well as a doctoral student-research assistant in the University of Delaware’s National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities.
This text was edited for consistency of language and message and appears in the January–March 2018 issue of the Autism Delaware quarterly newsletter, The Sun.