How To Bond With Your Autistic Child Through Your Special Interests

Parents of autistic children often feel like bad parents. This is because their instincts and what is “normal” often fail to get expected results.

Don’t think of this slideshow as a perfect formula that will always work. Think of it as an opportunity to troubleshoot when your attempts aren’t getting the results you’d like.

Parents, educators, and support workers also feel like who they are gets lost because they are putting in so much effort.

So they try harder. Things get worse. They try harder. Things get even worse.

The good news is the solution is easy. The “trying hard” itself is likely the culprit. Your child may be offended by the effort.

Just start doing what you love in front of your child, being in your joy, and if they want to join, make it possible. And safe.

The home photos in these images are from my (Terra Vance) and my child’s now-mutual passion: Plants

After we cultivated this passion, we began sharing it with my friends on private social media. They joined in! The plants in these images came from various people who have mutual joy.

From the seashells, toys, planters, and the plants themselves, most of these came from community.

The last photograph in this sideshow is a plant from Elizabeth Vosseller from the International Association for Spelling as Communication. My child named this one “Turd” and garnished it with tiny toys called Shopkins, modeled after a potty, toilet paper, hand soap, and a spray bottle full of cleaner. The plant behind it has a vintage elephant, and is named “Donut Joe” after an ancestor who was a professional elephant tamer. The “Donut Joe” title is a mystery.

Through this, I’ve been able to share about other passions— gemstones and crystals, antiques, ancestral traditions passed down from my grandparents, and more. And I learn so much about my child.

It’s grown to now be a mosaic of lots of people’s love and personalities, connecting my child to others who now have folded our traditions into their own.

Coming from poverty, this kind of community culture of giving from what you have— like found objects, plant cuttings, seeds, canned foods, etc. is home to me. It’s a beautiful way to build community, autistically.

You can click here to access image descriptions.

Click here to download the printable PDF of the images in this post, and the individual images can be viewed below.

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6 Responses

  1. I don’t know if this is an especially autistic concern, but the flip side of not coercing a child into sharing your interest is not taking over something that was supposed to be theirs. I experienced this a few times from my father.

  2. Thanks for sharing this journey that you took with your child! This is beautifully explained and I love your artistic photo essay. Very helpful to those who want to get to know someone on the spectrum but don’t know how.

  3. This quote is one I especially think bears repeating?; “Don’t think of (my advice) as a perfect formula that will always work. Think of it as an opportunity to troubleshoot when your attempts aren’t getting the results you’d like.” Because this quote doesn’t apply only to the slideshow in this article. This is what every bit of advice autistic people give to parents is. Troubleshooting. None of those bits of advice are meant to be a magic bullet. They are ways to troubleshoot and see if what you are doing works. And sometimes, certain troubleshooting measures fail. And that’s okay. If one troubleshooting measure fails, try another one. Or check to see if it’s something that requires a little patience (because living people sometimes take time to heal, whereas computers either get fixed or they don’t).

  4. This guide was so validating! It’s essentially what I’ve (accidentally) done with my kids, after ruling out most of the typical suggestions (“bake cookies together!” = double executive dysfunction horror show with the added likelihood of personal injury NO THANK YOU) and just reversing everything my mom did wrong. Like, she was good about exposing us to different creative interests, but then she’d always want to step in and show us how to “do it right” or “do it even better.” So I’ve adopted the breadth of interests but dropped the criticism — it’s the process and togetherness that’s important for fun, not having something to compete with at the end. And as you point out perfectly, you can share the results either way!

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