When you have an autistic child, goals are often thrown at you from all sides.
Their OT is setting goals about creating a sensory diet, their SLP might be setting goals about communicating wants and needs, their school might be setting goals about “reducing negative behaviors”.
It can feel super overwhelming, and you can easily fall into defaulting to whatever goals the professionals tell you your child should be working on.
But the problem with that is that not all goals for autistic children are created equal.
Most goals tend to focus less on the autistic child and more on the neurotypical people around them.
That’s why it’s so important to understand autistic-led goals. Because every single goal set with or for your autistic child should be autistic-led.
Is Your Child’s Goal Autistic-Led?
(Pssst: want a step-by-step guide to autistic-led goals? Click here!)
What are Autistic-Led Goals?
Autistic-Led goals are goals that center the autistic person, instead of the neurotypicals around them.
These goals help autistic people improve their life in a meaningful way, and they respect autistic neurology.
That’s the key. And it’s one reason that Autistic-Led goals are so important.
When you focus on setting autistic-led goals, it makes sure that your goals aren’t unintentionally encouraging your child to mask or act more neurotypical.
An example of an autistic-led goal might be to “confidently order a sandwich at subway.”
That same goal, but neurotypical-led would be “verbally order a sandwich at subway.”
Here’s the key difference: One goal centers the neurotypical’s experience, and their norm (verbal communication). The other goal centers the autistic person’s experience and allows space for them to find whatever way works best for them.
Maybe they confidently order a sandwich through the UberEats app.
Maybe they confidently order a sandwich by writing their order on a sticky note and handing it to the person at the counter.
Maybe they confidently order a sandwich by pointing to the pictures of the different breads and toppings.
The goal isn’t to order a sandwich the way other people do, but to find the way the autistic person can best order their sandwich confidently.
Who is At the Center?
Many goals that appear to be beneficial to your autistic child can actually be neurotypical-led, and to tell the difference it’s important to note who is at the center.
Did you base this goal on the autistic person?
Did it consider their learning style? Their sensory needs and preferences? Their primary communication type?
Does your child clearly benefit from this goal, or only those neurotypicals around them?
Now sometimes, goals can benefit both the autistic person and the neurotypicals around them, so to know if your goal is truly autistic-led, you need to think about whose needs the goal is based on.
Here’s another example: Getting through the grocery store without a meltdown.
This benefits the autistic person and the neurotypical parent taking them to the grocery store.
But is the autistic person’s needs at the center, or is the parent’s?
This is actually a sneaky neurotypical-led goal.
The autistic person benefits for sure, I mean, avoiding a meltdown is definitely a benefit. But they aren’t at the center.
Here’s how we could tweak this to be autistic-led: Get groceries without being triggered into a meltdown.
See, that goal centers the autistic person’s needs. They need groceries, and they need to get groceries without facing pain and triggers.
And here’s the thing… That goal opens up a whole host of possibilities that the other didn’t.
Maybe your child stays home while you grocery shop.
Maybe you order groceries to pick up, so your child doesn’t have to go into the store.
Maybe you order groceries to be delivered so that you don’t even have to worry about it.
Starting from the autistic person’s needs helps you find more creative solutions, rather than a default goal to “get through it”.
Every Goal Your Child Has Should Be Autistic-Led
And here’s the deal, friend, I truly believe that every goal your child has should be autistic-led.
They are going to spend their entire lives being told by society that in order to succeed they need to drastically change who they are.
With autistic-led goals, your child is able to focus on their needs, and finding ways to meet those needs and be successful in their own way.
And when you start setting autistic-led goals with them as children, they’ll grow up to be able to set and achieve their own autistic-led goals the rest of their life.
And that’s a powerful thing.
Step-By-Step Guide to Autistic-Led Goals
If you read this and thought “woah woah woah… how do I actually do this??” don’t stress!
I put together this super handy printable guide to walk you through the four rules of autistic-led goals.
Click here and tell me a bit about your situation (so I can create more resources like this one to help you!) and then download your Autistic-Led Goals Guide!
Then you can work on setting some autistic-led goals with your child, or swapping some neurotypical-led goals into autistic-led goals that keep your child at the center.