When I was first volunteering in Son-Rise programs with children with autism and their families I was taught to set an intention when going in to play with a child. On a given day I might practice being nonjudgmental, loving, or energetic. One of my favorites, that I now use both in my work with autism and in the rest of my life, is authenticity. The value of authenticity, of being myself, is extraordinary.
Your child knows anyway
We like to pretend that when we are inauthentic no one notices. Especially with a child with autism attitude counts for everything. So let’s look at what kind of attitude we hold when we are inauthentic. If I go into work with a child, am feeling tired but don’t acknowledge those feelings to myself, am I actually less tired? Of course not! I’m still feeling and acting with low energy even if I am in denial. Because the attitude that works with autism is one of loving and accepting what is – without needing to change anything – authenticity is inherently important.
It’s more fun
It’s very simple: authenticity is more fun. I have often been upset and self judgmental while trying not to be. That’s the equivalent of feeling unhappy while telling myself that it’s bad to be unhappy. I remember a specific day in a training program at the Option Institute. I had been feeling very upset while trying not to be. In a moment I changed and started to acknowledge my discontent. Several friends asked me how I was doing and my response was “Shitty! I’m angry at myself for…” It was amazing how many people wanted to start a conversation as a result of my authentic sharing. Some people wanted to know what was going on, others wanted to share stories from their own lives, and everyone that I talked to wanted to connect. Authenticity is inviting the people around us – whether we are authentically loving or authentically upset – to get to know us better.
There’s less to remember
I find when I have less to keep track of I can focus more on the tasks at hand and get more done. I am way more successful with children that I work with as a result! When I am authentic I don’t have to remember who I am to each individual person. If I don’t remember somebody’s name I don’t have to pretend that I do. It’s much easier to say “I hope you don’t mind, I don’t remember your name” then to feel bad for 20 minutes as I try to trick them into reminding me.
Authenticity can be a game with your child. If you are not pretending to be other than what you are or feel right now with your child this can become part of your interactions with them. I remember being in a Son-Rise Playroom with a child one evening. I yawned. The child then yawned herself. Pretty soon we were playing a game of yawning back and forth, which turned into making scary faces at each other, and resulted in a delicious 10-minute game/interaction.
My favorite shortcut
My favorite reason for authenticity is that it is a shortcut to happiness, to well-being. Very often people judge themselves. Authenticity is a way to cut through all of those layers of discontent, know oneself and reach a calm, collected state. By accepting of what is right now, instead of trying to push away, authenticity allows the user free reign to love and accept themselves as they actually are. This always results in more happiness and contentment in the moment.
Much of this post follows comes out of my own study at the Option Institute (home of the Son-Rise Program and the Autism Treatment Center for America). If you find this discussion useful I highly recommend learning more these programs.