Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Learning How To Ask For Help

by Bec Oakley

originally posted on snagglebox.com

One area that I’m focusing on with Max at the moment is helping him to figure out when he needs to get help.

Like a lot of autistic kids, he finds it difficult to know when or how to go about getting it - shoe laces that come untied, a homework question that he’s stuck on, even some pretty serious injuries are all suffered in silence until they happen to come to my attention.

Being able to get help when you need it is an essential skill for independence, not to mention safety and survival, but it’s a much more complex skill than most people realize. There's also the dangerous assumption that kids who don't ask for help don't need it. I’ve seen so many IEP goals that say something like “Ben will ask for help when needed”, but it’s not a simple behaviour or just something they need to try harder at.

So let’s look at the steps that make up 'seeking assistance' to try and understand why it can be difficult for some people (oh and by the way, it’s not just kids that can struggle with this - I find it almost impossible to do too).

Knowing that you have a problem

This isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Some situations might be a problem for other people but not for you, or might become a problem at some point but haven’t yet. Untied shoelaces only become a problem when you try to walk and your shoe falls off. Or when the teacher notices them and tells you to fix it. But until that happens untied shoelaces are just untied shoelaces. No solution required.

Some problems make themselves known instantly - an angry dog that’s running towards you, forgetting where you’ve parked your car. But many problems sneak up on you - like teeth that slowly decay from incorrect brushing or the emotional distance between spouses who aren’t communicating well. So it might not always be clear when a situation has turned into a problem... and you can’t get help if you don’t know that you need it.

Knowing that you need help

Got a problem, get help... simple, right? Well no, because having a problem is not the same thing as needing help. I’ll say it again because this is important - having a problem is not the same thing as needing help.

If you have a problem but already know the solution and have everything you need to solve it, you don’t need assistance. You actually only need help when you don't know how to fix it, can't do it alone or you've tried and your solution didn't work.

And yet “do you have a problem” is about as far as we usually go in teaching kids how to figure out when to get help. It’s also why it can be so hard for some people to understand that others might struggle with this. There’s also a big difference between wanting help and needing help, but that’s a distinction that can be difficult for some kids to make.

Autistic kids might not want help if they’re perfectionists, or if they’ve had a bad experience seeking help in the past. Maybe they asked the wrong person at the wrong time in the wrong way, and somebody yelled at them. Maybe they got scolded for seeking help for problems that “shouldn’t be problems”. Or maybe the help was given to them in a way that they didn’t understand or which made the problem a whole lot worse.
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