Interaction First, Goal Second

Once in a while you come across something that really speaks to you. This phrase “Interaction first, goal second” is one of those things for me. I heard it during a lecture I attended about the Son-Rise program a long time ago, and whilst I questioned some of the content of that lecture, this phrase really got my attention.

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In four words, it captured my basic philosophy around working with children with autism. I would go so far as to say that when I was consistent with this, things just worked out better for the child and for me.

Sure, by focusing on some specific goals we can often get faster progress in that particular area, but without putting the emphasis on building the relationship, they are only likely to produce short terms benefits.

Now that I have young children of my own, I find that the same principle applies. Whenever I remember the motto “interaction first, goal second”, things tend to work out. So, why don’t I remember this all the time? Good question. And to be fair, I do remember it most of the time. But when I forget, it’s usually because I’ve convinced myself about something or other: e.g. “I haven’t got time for this nonsense (some aspect of my son’s behaviour)”, or “It’s important that he understands this” (whatever my goal happens to be at the time).

Fortunately, when things don’t pan out, I do usually realize that it’s my fault – Sam is just being his 4 year old self. I can then get back to enjoying being with him, valuing the interaction, treasuring the moment, and Sam is usually then much more amenable to my agenda.

Of course, with a child with autism the whole process can take longer, but I believe that the process is still valid. I have developed many great relationships with kids with autism by focusing on interaction first. The other goals have always been easier to achieve when they play second fiddle to interaction.

Just to be clear, goals are important and we should have them. They are just not nearly as important as developing the relationship.
If you have become a little over-focused on goals recently, and are becoming frustrated with how things are going, or sense that something is missing, try re-prioritizing: “interaction first, goal second”.

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About Alan Yau

Creator of Autism Sparks
Author of Autism: A Practical Guide for Parents

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