You may have heard it said that one of the most important attitudes we can take toward our children is to presume their competence. When faced with a new and daunting task, presume that they can do more than one might assume or what their track record may imply they can do.
Within our children are bundles of skills, potential energy, and thoughts and ideas waiting for a way to come forth. Presuming competence means that those things are present, and maybe a particular activity or context, on a particular day, with a certain structure, using some specific tools and prompts will be the key that helps them let their light shine forth.
So much great stuff is in inside our children. And we must take this stance in order to best help them. Just as importantly, we must demand that others who work with our children do the same. It is essential that no one assumes our kids can’t do something.
Everyone must presume competence, see what is possible, and look for the paths by which those wonders can come. Sure, they may not succeed the first time or the hundredth time, but we must presume something is possible if only we can find the keys to help them unlock their challenges. All future growth and success starts here.
Presuming Our Own Competence
As the parents, we often miss a critical facet to all this. We routinely assume we are pretty bad at this whole parenting gig. Just about every parent I talk to – including me – regularly says what amounts to, “I really suck at this whole parenting thing.”
You see, we often don’t presume our own competence. When faced with a challenge, presume you can. When in doubt, you can always bounce ideas off other autism parents and autistics either online or in person. You may try something, and you may succeed, or you may not. This is just how you learn.
An Example – Going to the Store
For example, if going to the store is hard for your child and you, this very likely is a challenge for both of you for different reasons. Maybe your child has sensory challenges with stores, and maybe you are afraid of being looked at as a failure by others in the store if something happens.
Instead, try presuming competence for both of you. Perhaps come up with a visual list of three things, grab a cart, and try to get just those three things, pay for them, and leave. If you have to abort along the way, or even at the front door, who cares? The main thing is to presume you have the competence to plan and pull it off, that you have the adaptability and resourcefulness to help your child through the experience, and that your child has the skills within them to successfully manage it.
If you try and don’t succeed, learn from it and try again. You may make incremental progress, it may just work the first try, or maybe it’s somewhere in between. Try, learn, try again, but always presume you can do it together.
This example is something we did a long time ago. I hadn’t been presuming competence on my part or our son’s. I was scared to death of going to the store. This was a store we hadn’t made it past the shopping carts in the front of the store after numerous tries. But, after trial and error, we learned more and more.
And, sure enough, the very short, visual shopping list and a promised reward did the trick on the first try. He was on edge and nervous, and obviously so was I, but we all got through it. It was like winning the Super Bowl. He taught me it’s so much better to believe in him and myself than to live in fear.
Now It’s Your Turn
So, your assignment is to go do something you’re really nervous about trying with your child. Who knows how it will actually turn out. Don’t live out all the what-ifs and fears in advance. Presume competence – theirs and yours – and go for it.
Keep the first go simple. Use your skills to prepare the tools, rewards, and whatever else you need. Use your experience to adapt as necessary when you get there and are in the thick of it. Presume competence in your child and yourself. Have faith.
If it goes well, celebrate like wild people. If it’s a disaster, brush it off, learn from it, and prepare to try again. If it’s somewhere in the middle, keep learning, and try again.
Faith is not a belief that something will work out on this particular try. Faith is that through effort, perseverance over however long it takes, and a dogged, steadfast hope, together you can overcome a challenge that once seemed so far out of reach.
Presume your child can. Presume you can. Have faith that you will.