Question My 9 year old Aspie grandson is rarely happy, unless he is watching TV and/or eating. His self esteem is very low. Any suggestions to help self esteem or change his attitude from negative to positive would be wonderful. Answer
Successful experiences in your grandson’s life will build his self-esteem and give him a more positive attitude. In addition, when he sees that he is accepted and loved by others, he will feel secure and achieve self acceptance. Then, he may make more of an effort to try other activities.
Consider for a minute WHY he takes pleasure in eating and/or watching television. First, it’s safe and reassuring. He is familiar with television programs that he watches on a regular basis, and food is well known for providing psychological comfort. Second, it’s a predictable, solitary activity which always gives him the same safe results. He knows what the consequences of his behavior are, and he feels rewarded by them. Children with Asperger’s have a strong need to feel safe and reassured; they learn by following well-explained rules that contain predictable outcomes. These are the reasons for his repetitive, satisfying activities, and these behaviors can be managed in several different ways.
You must accept that he needs some time (at least for now) to watch T.V. and eating is a physical necessity. Consider that Asperger’s individuals are often confused and overwhelmed by choices; at this point, build in a few alternative behaviors for him to engage in, such as using a computer. Discuss his options with him, and let him pick an activity in addition to eating and watching television.
Watching television can be used as a reward for completing other tasks. Take him outdoors and encourage him to play a game or walk for a short period of time. When he has successfully completed the task, reward him with a specified period of time for watching television. Doing this on a regular basis will increase his tolerance for an activity. A good approach is to increase the activity time by one minute per session and praise him lavishly each time he accomplishes the task. After he gets used to one activity, add an additional activity, perhaps swimming or bicycle riding. Little by little, increase the amount of time per activity and the number of activities. Always remember to reward and praise him each time the activity is completed.
After you reward him, sit down with him and discuss what you both will do the next time you go out, how long you will do it, and what the reward will be. He’ll be more enthusiastic once he’s had a positive activity/reward experience and has received the reward and your praise. Remember to start with the easiest activities first – a scooter, then a bike, for example. Try to avoid gender stereotyping any of your grandson’s activities. If you can’t get him on a swing or scooter at first, then start with just walking and looking at nature. Use the praise and reward for that activity before you branch out. Once you know that he likes a given activity, he is more likely to willingly participate in it.
Your best approach is to avoid confrontation and use negotiation when you work with his likes and dislikes. This way, he will be more likely to try new things with you. Your relationship will be much stronger if he perceives that you are both on the same side!
Have a great day