Do you know what I want to be when I grow up?

The other night my son with autism posed this question to me. It caught me by surprise, really. He has never talked about this before and I didn’t think he thought that far out into the future. I remember the milestone he accomplished in Kindergarten when he understood the concept of next week or next month. Most kids with autism usually don’t grasp time concept easily.  We take much of our understanding of language and abstract concepts for granted.

Understanding abstract concepts usually develops naturally, but for a child with autism it can cause confusion. Most kids on the spectrum are concrete and literal thinkers and “the future” is a concept that is difficult to grasp. The other hurdle is that your child with ASD may be a visual learner or thinker. If they can’t visualize the future, they don’t understand this concept.

The key to teaching abstract concepts like time, is through visuals. Saying to your child that “We are going to the party on Saturday” will cause confusion if they have no concept of time or how the calendar works.  Showing visuals with a calendar that shows them the current day, number of days until the event and written party on the day of event can help them learn this concept.

We worked with our son on time concepts, past, present and future in his behavioral therapy sessions. He also learned it at school, but it took him longer to grasp it than it did his peers. We’ve known that he understands future concepts for a while now, and he has shown more and more an understanding of it.

For instance, he is in 2nd grade right now, and his older brother just went on a week-long trip with his 6th grade class to a marine science camp. He is looking forward to his turn and talks about how long it is before he is in 6th grade and can go to camp. So it shouldn’t have surprised me when he spoke of the future in terms of when he is grown up, but it did. I just needed reminding that he is going to be grown up one day, and will be just fine.

By the way, my son told me he wanted to be a football player.  I asked him why a football player (since he doesn’t play it) and his reply was “so daddy can watch me on TV”.  Hmmm, maybe my husband’s love for NFL football is contagious. Either way, I’m comforted by this conversation and very hopeful for his future.

A good resource for teaching time concepts on the web is by Lucia Smith, a speech pathologist. Here is the link to her document:


2 Responses

  1. I love this and your son’s beautiful accomplishments

  2. Just shared on facebook. Absolutely inspiring! I have also pointed to the Link you share which is absolutely superb and greatly appreciated here. I am very heartened by this blog – thank you for your great work.

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