When a child with special needs doesn't meet milestones "on schedule," it may affect his confidence. Here, Dr. Alisha Griffith-Berkeley, the co-founder of a martial arts program for kids with autism and other disabilities, offers tips on how parents can boost their child's self-confidence and keep him from getting frustrated.
When my child doesn't meet milestones on schedule, how can I boost his confidence?
I tell parents to look at the progress of where your child was yesterday, last week, last month, and then last year. Once you stop and you compare your child to where they were and not compared to any other child, and where they were maybe a year ago, you’ll see so many improvements that your child may have made and that will give you self-confidence and will give your child self-confidence.
I noticed that when I stopped comparing my child to other children at that age or grade, I began to really see his progress and I began to accept him for being him, and it became more fun to be a parent to him.
When you continue to compare your child to other children—and especially for me as I work in the school system and I see other children—you may get frustrated. I compare my son to where he was before and I can see his amazing progress. All of this is where you can really find happiness and you can really help your child learn how to be self-confident.
How can I help my child learn new skills without getting frustrated?
I usually tell them to go to the level of the child. You need to come down and make eye contact with them. Once you get their attention, making sure they’re focusing on your eye or your face, you have to make sure that you’re speaking to them directly. You want to speak in a calm manner, lower your voice, and tell them very clearly in as few words as you can what you want them to do.
For example, if you have a child that has difficulty sitting down and they’re just moving around, they’re not going to understand long instructions. If you tell them to “come over, sit down, and listen,” that is already three pieces of instruction and they may have already lost the first one that you want them to do. Instead, you should try to get their attention by going over to the child, coming down to their level, and bringing your voice down to a very calm level, because when you become calm, the child will imitate how you are. Tell them whatever you need to very clearly and in a very short manner, usually in two or three words.
Dr. Alisha Griffith-Berkeley is an audiologist (a clinical doctor who specializes in hearing impairments) with the NYC Department of Education and a certified speech-language pathologist who has worked with children with various special needs for more than 12 years. She has earned a second-degree black belt from the Vee Arnis Jujitsu martial arts program and is the cofounder of So S.M.Ar.T. Kids, Inc. She is also the mother of a son diagnosed with autism. Griffith-Berkeley has combined her three passions—speech-language pathology, helping children with special needs, and martial arts—to create a specialized martial arts program.