One of the challenges of modern life is the lure of having it all. We believe that if we can just manage our time, our child with autism can have the best experiences at school, at ABA therapy, with friends and at home with family. When we’re spread too thin, though, we don’t benefit fully from anything. But when we learn to prioritize according to our values, we may not feel regret about making difficult choices and doing less, says Ashley Musial, M.Ed., owner of ChildFirst Behavior Therapy in Arlington Heights.
Letting our values guide our choices is an unfamiliar concept for most of us — and it requires a little self-exploration to determine our priorities. But the rewards can be huge, says Musial, who is mom to six sons, one with autism spectrum disorder.
Here, Musial shares insight into how, with a little reflection and insight, families can make more effective choices for their families and children with autism by following their values.
Having it all?
Despite COVID’s continued impact, families are beginning to have more options for their kids with autism. Now, in-person school might be slotted in next to ABA therapy, and the combination can radically alter evening routines as everyone in the family also needs to take time to prepare to do it all again the following day. Here, families may struggle to decide which treatments to pursue for their child.
“A family may see major benefits with ABA therapy but also recognize that COVID disruptions were very hard, so they think their child will benefit from going back to school. Yet they don’t want to lose ABA therapy and they also want to have family time,” Musial says.
In this situation, will the family benefit from having a thin slice of everything? Or fewer activities that allow for richer experiences? “In a lot of these cases, the efforts are not necessarily concentrated enough to have positive outcomes in any of the choices,” Musial explains.
A tough decision is made easier when a family can figure out what they really value.
“In this example, the family talks about the calming rituals of evening family time. I’m hearing calm, calm, calm. So if they value serenity and quiet family time at the end of the day, we help them make it a priority,” Musial says. “That means they will have to give up things in pursuit of their values.”
Determine your values
As with everything else in life, values are not necessarily constant, which means we can adjust our behaviors and choices to align with our shifting values.
“Values might change over time, depending upon the season of your life. The trick is to line up two or three of your values and ask yourself does this behavior move me toward my values and to what extent?” Musial explains.
Determining our values can help steer us toward more fulfilling outcomes, even on a day-to-day basis. If your child is working toward learning to tie their shoes independently, for instance, repetition will help them achieve this more quickly. “How many times are you going to have them tie their shoes? Five times a day? Ten times a day? Three times a week?” Musial says. “The benefit of continual repetition is that growth happens faster and your ABA team feels supported because you are working with your child on this effort.”
But if the downside is that you aren’t able to get other values-related tasks done, it’s OK to give yourself permission to triage.
“If you are worried about your child’s independence and learning how to tie shoes and get dressed on their own, does that take prominence over reading books with your child, where you’d experience more laughter, joke telling and eye contact? One may feed your soul over another,” Musial explains.
The beauty of a values-based approach to all of these small and large choices is that each parent’s values are personal and specific to them. There’s no comparison or measurement of personal values, so no guilt should be involved.
If, for example, a parent can better approach each day when there’s no lingering laundry to fold, they’re not prioritizing laundry over children. But they are placing value on having an uncluttered mind so they can be more present in the moments that really matter, Musial explains.
“We know from research that an uncluttered environment and general organization does facilitate better behavior and reduce challenging behaviors,” she says. “So, for those who prefer organization — when dinner is planned out and things are in order — their actions have moved them closer to their value of feeling good, which then allows them to be more present for their family in other ways.”
Learn more about ChildFirst Behavior Therapy, an Arlington Heights ABA therapy provider for kids with autism at childfirstbehaviortherapy.com.