A diagnosis of autism can be a difficult juncture to get through for both the child as well as the parents. Naturally, this period is filled with uncertainty and confusion. As the child grows up, the way that this diagnosis is addressed largely impacts his self-identity and self-esteem. This is, however, only a little (albeit a significant) part of the big picture that plays a role in developing the child’s concept of self.
Even in today’s day and age, a diagnosis of autism might be attached to a lot of stigma and misconceptions that inadvertently end up affecting the child’s self-concept as he grows up. While society’s perceptions of autism and how they might affect the child are out of the parent’s control, the child’s sense of identity can still be protected by offering the right type of support at home.
Researchers have found that children who were able to find positive meaning or benefits associated with autism were more likely to have greater positive global self-perceptions (Nguyen, et al., 2020). It was also found that adults who saw themselves as having special talents, power in relationships and emotional resilience had greater self-worth irrespective of their autism characteristics.
This process of developing a child’s self-worth and self-esteem starts in childhood and its expression is seen in the teenage years. The child’s first external influences are predominantly his immediate family and caregivers; and so, as a parent of a special child, you can play an important role in the development of your child’s identity and self-esteem.
Here’s how you can encourage the development of a positive identity within your child –
- Normalize the Autism Diagnosis
Like mentioned before, receiving an autism diagnosis can be life-changing for your child. An important thing to do is to make sure that your child understands that there is nothing wrong with being different. To ensure that autism is not associated with shame or embarrassment, it is necessary to have open and honest conversations about the diagnosis with your child. Explain to your child that our differences are what make us unique and without them, the world would be a boring place.
- Support Your Child’s Passions
One of the ways a child feels confident within themselves is through showcasing their skills while doing something that they love. An amazing way to help your child develop a positive identity is through encouraging him to find his special interests and honing his skills in an activity he enjoys. Excelling in an area is something that can help your child gain a sense of accomplishment. Allowing your child the opportunity and support to fulfill their potential through something that they enjoy doing could also have a positive impact on their self-worth.
- Allow Your Child to Make Mistakes
Provide a space for your child where she will not be afraid of failures. Explain to her that making mistakes does not make someone a bad person. If children are made to feel ashamed for their mistakes, it can invariably discourage them to try out new things in the future. For children on the spectrum, navigating everyday life situations often involves a pattern of trial and error that can be difficult for them to handle. It becomes very important to ensure that the child does not end up focusing on her bad days but learns to celebrate her triumphs. When your child does not see herself as less than, she develops a concept of self that is healthy.
- Model Appropriate Ways of Expressing Emotions
Children tend to model the behavior that they often observe around them. If your child sees you handle issues calmly and deal with failures in a healthy manner, chances are that she will learn to model the same behavior. Children on the spectrum might need to be taught ways of dealing with and verbalizing their emotions in a healthy manner. A lot of the time, children tend to observe their parent’s ways of expressing various emotions and try to emulate them. Hence, it is important to model behaviors that will lead to a positive identity and self-worth in your child.
Nguyen, W., Ownsworth, T., Nicol, C., & Zimmerman, D. (2020). How I see and feel about myself: Domain-specific self-concept and self-esteem in autistic adults. Frontiers in Psychology, 11.