Presuming competence is a mantra in the Autistic community. Presuming competence means that we presume that the Autistic child or person is just as competent as their peers. Unfortunately some people do not presume competence which means that Autistic children and teens are often treated differently to their peers. They can be spoken to in a different manner to the way people speak to their peers. They can be taught different things to that which their peers are taught. They can be given less responsibility and less control over their own lives.
When other people don’t see us as competent then this has an affect on our self-esteem, our self image, and how we feel about ourselves in general. If other people don’t think we are competent and don’t treat us as if we are competent well then we grow up feeling that we are not competent. If other people treat us as competent then we grow up believing that we are competent and that our opinions and feelings matter. We grow up believing that we are just as equal and valuable as everybody else.
So how do we show competence in our Autistic children and teens? We do so by seeing them as equal to ourselves and everybody else. We do so by not believing in this deficit model and by focusing on the wonderful gifts and talents that our children have. If we focus on perceived deficits we are not presuming competence. Firstly, the deficit model of autism is not only extremely negative but also the deficits listed are actually inaccurate assumptions of Autistic experiences.
We don’t normally define people by what they are not, we usually define people by who they are.
It’s so important that Autistic kids are seen as competent. When we see someone as competent then we know that they can understand themselves and others. Autistic kids and teens and their needs are often dismissed by others. When we express pain at sensory experiences, or question something or just express ourselves Autistically we can be dismissed and that can make us feel invalidated and we can start to question our reality and begin to doubt ourselves.
When we doubt ourselves we can disconnect from our instincts and from our faith in ourselves. We can lose confidence in our own experiences, thoughts and feelings. We can lose confidence in our ability to know ourselves. We can start to believe what others think and say about us instead of trusting ourselves. This can feed into people pleasing habits and become a way of life for us. And all because other people do not see us a competent people who understand ourselves and who know what is going on for us.
So how can you as a parent presume and show competence in your child?
You can make a safe space for them to share with you, a space where they feel heard, seen and validated. There is huge healing in feeling seen.
You can ask them what they need because presuming competence starts with presuming that they know themselves best. Only they know what life is like for them. Sometimes us adults we ask each other and forget to ask the actual person involved and that’s the child.
And while we’re talking about presuming competence please also presume competence in yourself. I see sometimes how quickly parents become disempowered after the child receives a diagnosis. They get advice from so many different people that it’s easy to lose faith in your own abilities. Trust your own instincts too, have faith in your own parenting abilities.