"The pathetically, stupidly, inconveniently obvious truth is, doing things only for yourself is bad, helping each other is good. It's this easy. You just stop thinking about what's good for you, and start thinking about what's good for someone else, and you can change the whole game."
-Joel McHale, Community
Whether you call it the golden rule, the law of attraction, humanism, or any other number of names, it is a well accepted fact that when it comes to kindness, you receive directly in the proportion to what you give.
Intentional altruism can be a powerful therapy milieu for children on the autism spectrum. Doing something selfless requires that we think outside of our own skin to not just respond to, but Intuit the needs of others. In other words, any act of altruism requires a person to access theory of mind which is the cognitive capacity to feel genuine empathy and one of the areas of functioning experts posit is related to the social behaviors of people on the autism spectrum.
Altruistic activities may be therapeutic for children on the autism spectrum, and are certainly an important part of developing a sense of citizenship for any child.
Important skills gained through service include:
- Delay of gratification
Consider making a service project part of your child's summer routine. The hours given will bring exponential developmental growth. When choosing a project, be sure to let your child have as much agency as possible so that they feel ownership and a genuine willingness to participate. If they are resistant initially, try giving limited options, allowing them to choose from a pre-selected bunch of activities, but not making non-participation a choice.
Ideas for altruistic projects:
- Visit with an older adult in your area. (you can get a list of older adults who might enjoy a visit from your local Meals on Wheels office).
- Green up a public space. If your child has sensory issues, picking up trash could touch off some issues. Plan ahead with proper modifications to make this a good experience such as gloves, bags, and a stick with a sharp end to spear trash.
- Visit your local animal shelter and walk the dogs. If your child enjoys animals, being around a friendly dog can offer the opportunity for unconditional acceptance.
Aaron Weintraub, MS runs child-centered social skills groups with a focus on children and teenagers with Pervasive Developmental Disorder,Asperger Syndrome, High Functioning Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and Shyness. Strengths-based approach in a community based setting. Groups available in Tolland, Mansfield, Willimantic, Hartford, Vernon and Coventry Connecticut.