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Many children with a diagnosis of ASD present with an overwhelmingly low self-esteem (competency) which significantly impacts their desire and skill to problem solve, assist others, and even share emotion. Often times these children appear very passive or have little emotional regulation when presented with even simple problems. Directly building memories of competency in the first steps of treatment often paves the way for easier acquisition of dynamic functions and skills in the future. Following are guidelines for building competency as well as some potential “problems” which you can spotlight your child overcoming.

Guidelines for Working toward Feelings of Competency.
1. Remember that your focus is to build MOTIVATION to try tasks/help out/problem solve. Once the motivation is there, the skills and compliance will follow. Motivation comes from memory of success, so start with very simple here-and-now problems (e.g. moving the salt aside to get to the baking soda in the cabinet, picking up the sock that dropped, etc.).

2. A good first step is to model while narrating to your child how you are solving a given problem (e.g. “Oh no! I dropped the sock! Oh well….I can just pick it up.”). The best narration, of course, would be exaggerated nonverbal declaratives (i.e. gestures, facial expressions, sound effects, etc.), but for the sake of clarity examples are described as verbal communication. Emphasis of nonverbal declaratives (and shorter verbal declaratives) also allows for use of these strategies with children who have little or no verbal skills.

3. Next, spotlight how you have a similar problem and that you need your child’s help. Rather than announcing what you are going to do, simply declare that something is wrong while indirectly implying that you need help (e.g. “OH NO! Not again! The shirt dropped!”) [Note: Remember, declaratives, whether nonverbal or verbal, require no response on the part of the child. Rather, think of these statements as spotlights of opportunities to solve problems or help out.]

Another means of spotlighting a problem is to make specific declaratives about your child’s ability to address the problem at hand:

“I bet you know where the broom is.”
“I bet you know what to do with this.”
“That might be too hard for me, but you might be able to do it.”

In addition, you might try a bit of teasing with an affectionate, playful tone in your facial expressions and voice. However, your child must be ready for this type of communication. For some children, the teasing may be taken literally and should be avoided.

"You don't really know how to do this.” “You probably can’t do this job.”
“But you don't like to play this game.” “Stop problem solving!”

4. If your child has difficulty applying the modeled strategy, a wonderful indirect prompt to reference for help is, “I know what we could do….” Wait at least 45 seconds to allow for ample processing time. When your child looks to you with curiosity about your idea and communicates, “What should we do?” it is the appropriate time to model problem solving again or add another indirect prompt. The key is to wait for your child’s motivation to learn from you.

5. Once your child helps you, emphasize the importance of his/her helping out. A large part of competency is understanding our role in helping others, whether it be our family, our team, our class, our community, or even the environment. Some examples include

“You found the peas. Now we can have some dinner!”
“Now our family can have clean clothes.”
“We built a fine bird house that some birds will really enjoy as their home.”
“Thanks to you, your brother can dip his fries in his ketchup.”

6. The episodic memory goal would be to encode and later review 1) the problem and 2) the emotion of overcoming the problem. This means, if using photos/drawings as a review method, you would need two pictures.

7. Use parallel (“same job”) frameworks--either sequential (“taking turns”) or simultaneous (“same time”). This will give your child the sense that he/she has a role in your time together while keeping the task simple enough to master.

8. Emotion-sharing and productive uncertainty need to be put on the back burner (for the time being). They can be used, but not as a primary focus. The heavy spotlight (and memory encoding) needs to be placed on being a successful helper/apprentice.

Potential Problems to Solve Together

needing an object not present
searching for an object
moving heavy objects
forgetting an obvious component
building (or re-building) a structure
correcting over-doing (or under-doing) such as throwing, bouncing, etc.
approaching spills/dropped objects

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