Lessons in Setting Goals from my child with Autism

As a mom of a son with autism, I have become adept at setting goals for Colby. One small problem. I can encourage and facilitate, drill and practice; however, ultimately, I cannot control whether my child meets those goals. This year I am shifting my focus a bit to work on what is within my control - me! So, in 2012, I am going to model my own goals after the ones I so frequently use for him:

· Find a wide variety of reinforcers – for myself! Intellectually, I may comprehend why my son walks away from me, looks past me, doesn’t answer me. My gut still sometimes feels the kick. In moments of flurry and frustration, we frequently resort to our tried-and-true “rewards,” whatever they may be. Red wine and chocolate … diet coke and doughnuts! Just as Colby needs a broad base of reinforcement options, so do I. I need to focus on expanding my choices to include selections that may increase my physical, mental, and emotional well-being – a walk, a song, a cheer, a game.

· Set some measurable goals - for me! I need to take my son’s goal (“He will ask a ‘where’ question correctly 8 out of 10 times”), and give myself a goal I can control (“I will ask and answer 20 ‘where?’ questions every time we go to the grocery store”). Instead of focusing only on Colby’s goals (“He will learn to tie his shoe”), I need to designate my own tasks that support those goals (“I will give Colby 8 opportunities to tie his shoes every day”). That way, I can experience a little success based on my own actions. Chocolate, here I come! Oh, wait … I’m going for a walk! :-)

· Schedule play dates - with other adults! An autism diagnosis drives many of us into isolation. In the face of the challenges that diagnosis brings, we often become disconnected. It is hard to concentrate on “small talk” when we are dealing with a crisis. Just as Colby is working hard to gain skills to develop appropriate social interaction, I need to build and keep my own relationships. I need to stay part of that “real world” I so desperately want my son to join. Friends can keep us moving forward – some by listening to our rants and raves, some by keeping us accountable in the work we need to do, and some who provide perspective from their vantage point outside the world of autism.