When you recognise and build on the strengths, interests and talents of your child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), you can develop and strengthen your child’s confidence and self-esteem. Everyday activities give you lots of opportunities to do this.

Why confidence is important for children and teenagers

Children and teenagers who are confident can cope better when things go wrong. They’re less likely to feel afraid in new or unexpected situations.

But children and teenagers with low self-confidence can be upset when they face difficulties, and might be less likely to try new things. They’re more likely to be hard on themselves and might think they ‘can’t do anything right’, regardless of their ability.

Confidence grows when children and teenagers have success and understand that they’re good at things. By paying special attention to your child’s strengths, you can develop and strengthen her confidence and self-esteem.

The difficulties and challenges faced by children and teenagers with ASD often become the centre of attention. But these children have lots of strengths too, so building their confidence by focusing on what they’re good at is especially important and helpful.

Identifying strengths in your child with autism spectrum disorder

It’s not always easy to see the strengths of your child with ASD. Here are some tips that might help you recognise them: 

  • Think about your child’s interests and write down the things your child likes to do for fun. It might be sport, computer activities, puzzles, reading, Lego®, dancing, singing, cooking, caring for pets, or spending time with some special people.

  • Watch your child interacting with other children in different settings, like at home, child care, kindergarten or school. Ask yourself, ‘What kinds of things does my child enjoy doing with others?’.

  • Pay particular attention to how your child relates to others, including you. Look out for things your child is good at. It might be sharing or taking turns or waiting. 

  • Notice when your child follows your instructions well, or does things without you having to ask. In younger children, this might be putting toys away and helping to dress themselves. In older children and teenagers, it might be making the bed and helping to put the laundry away. You can look at these things as your child’s personal strengths.

You can read more about helping your child develop everyday skills, building your child’s thinking and learning strengths and helping your child develop play skills.

Special interests: strengths for your child with autism spectrum disorder

Many children and teenagers with ASD have special interests. You can see these as strengths and use them to improve your child’s learning, social skills and self-esteem.

For example, you could use a child’s: 

  • interest in cars or trains to teach him counting, by counting pictures of cars or trains

  • enthusiasm for water to teach him self-help skills, like taking a shower or bath and washing hands

  • love of animals to get him more interested in reading, if you find him some books about animals

  • interest in a TV or movie character to help him develop emotional regulation skills – ‘When Harry Potter feels angry or upset, he finds a quiet place and takes three deep breaths’. 

You can also use your child’s special interest to encourage and develop friendships. For example, if your child has a special interest in computers, she might find it easier to relate to another child with the same special interest.

Building on strengths in your child with autism spectrum disorder

Here are some ideas to help you with developing personal strengths, interests and talents in your child with ASD.

Personalised strengths book

A personalised strengths book is a book about your child. It could include:

  • what your child likes to do

  • what your child is good at

  • what makes your child happy

  • who your child likes to spend time with and what he does with that person

  • what your child is currently learning 

  • what your child wants to be when he grows up

Strengths cards

Strengths cards are cards that illustrate different strengths, qualities or abilities. You can buy them, or you could make your own with your child.

To make them, cut out pictures from magazines or the internet that show various strengths and stick the pictures on cardboard. You could include strengths like ‘I am brave’, ‘I am easy to get along with’, and ‘I am a good listener’.

Here are a couple of ways you can use the cards:

  • Spread the cards out and ask your child to choose a card for herself and each person in your family. You could also ask other family members to choose a card for your child. Spend time talking about the strengths with your child and the situations where your child shows these strengths. 

  • Put the cards in a colourful bag. Each week ask your child to draw a card from the lucky dip. Throughout the week, notice and reward your child with praise and a sticker whenever he shows this strength.

Social Stories™

Social Stories™ are stories that explain social situations to children with ASD. You can also use them as a creative way to celebrate your child’s successes and talents. For example, you could write a Social Story™ about your child’s successes or talents and include related photos or work samples in it. This creates a positive record that helps your child understand her strengths and value.

Physical activities

Physical activities can help build your child’s self-confidence by giving him a sense of achievement when he masters a new skill. If your child does these activities with others, they can also be a good way for him to practise social skills.

Drama classes

Drama classes can give your child the opportunity to learn about feelings and interact with peers. Because drama classes are structured, they might cause less anxiety for your child. And role-play can give your child the opportunity to practise social skills and build her confidence. 

Everyone loves praise, and children love it most of all. So praise and encouragement are powerful ways to strengthen your child’s self-esteem. Praise your child’s effort, and describe exactly what it is that you like. For example, ‘Wow! You’ve really worked hard at building that Lego® set’, or ‘I really appreciate that you helped fold the clothes’.

© raisingchildren.net.au, translated and adapted with permission

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