Autism and “Drive”

Most autism interventions focus on making the child “more normal” or “less autistic”, and this is where many of the problems come in. (I’m sure parents who try to make their “geeky” kids more athletic or their “jocks” more academic run into basically the same problem.)

Earlier this year I read (and reviewed) Dan Pink’s latest book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Addressed primarily at the world of work, and geared toward leaders / managers, I also read this from the perspective of a parent. After all, what is a parent if not a leader for their kids.

A key part of Pink’s argument is his defining of the three things that makes for meaningful work: Autonomy, the pursuit of Mastery, and Purpose. I see no reason to think that this is different for those with autism.

And yet….

As our typical kids grow, the level of autonomy we grant – and that they demand – increases. Our autistic children also demand that same autonomy, but we are more reluctant to grant it.

The same is true with the opportunity to pursue mastery. Because our autistic children’s interests and what they wish to pursue is often quite unusual, overly specific, or otherwise outside the realm of what we ourselves are comfortable with, we often try to dampen or redirect.

I’m sure you can guess where I’m going with “purpose” as well.

Much of our own personal success has come from accepting our son’s oddity in interests, giving him the autonomy to pursue those within the bounds that any child must live within, and realizing that even though we have no idea what purpose he has in mind for himself that he does have a purpose in mind.

That, I think, is the power of the message in Drive. Not only for parenting an autistic child, but just parenting in general.

This is a slightly modified version of a comment I originally posted as part of the New Yorker Book Club discussion of drive, specifically an article entitled Reading “Drive” With Autism in Mind.

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