Goals are important for everyone. They provide motivation and a pathway for self-improvement. Without some sort of goal, we will either wander without direction or, even worse, stagnate in the same place. I have learned for myself how important it is to set goals that will challenge me to push outside of my comfort zone. Hard goals drive me to really change for the better. But I also realize that I need to be patient with how autism affects my abilities to accomplish things that might otherwise be much easier. Today, I want to talk about what I have learned about myself by setting goals and working hard to achieve them.
Ever since my diagnoses, measurable goals became part of my daily routine. That is a major part of ABA therapy: to break apart various skills into defined tasks and then to measure success of mastering each task before moving on to a more advanced skill. My therapists recorded everything that I did in large binders and constantly reviewed the data. Their motivation was to see me move from task to task and to check off the skills boxes.
The challenge for me with ABA was that these goals were not necessarily my goals. They were placed upon me by external forces. For example, it was never important to me how many blocks I could stack on top of each other. I worked on it so that I would get some external reinforcement like a high five, a treat, or most reinforcing of all, the chance to stop stacking blocks.
The harder the task became the bigger the disconnect between what I wanted and what I was being asked to do. Ultimately, I think that is why I stopped progressing in that program. I was never bought in. Both the goals and the motivators were externally derived. For a goal to be motivating, it has to be internal. I have to choose it. I have to want it. I have to be motivated to achieve it, and accomplishing the goal has to mean something to me.
As I learned more about myself, I was able to understand what I really wanted and needed to be happy. At that point, I could set goals that meant something to me, that would move me internally to become better and move closer to who I want to be.
My biggest goal is to become an effective communicator. But, as hard as I have tried, my disability has prevented me from being able to use verbal speech to communicate well. So, I had to make a choice: keep struggling to speak and fight against constant frustration, or pivot and find another way. When I discovered that I could get my thoughts out of my head by typing, the pathway to my goal changed. My goal hasn’t changed, but I realized that the method to achieve it is different than I had originally envisioned.
It feels really good to look back now at how far I have come. It reminds me of the first time I climbed a 14,000-foot peak. When I looked down and saw how high I had climbed, it felt awesome. I had the same feeling when I crossed the finish line of my first marathon, and more recently, when I finally figured out how to downhill ski independently. I will feel that same exhilaration soon when I hold my new novel in my hand for the first time.
I know I can do hard things! It takes me longer and I usually have to use unorthodox methods to get there, but if I want it bad enough, I can do it!
My advice to parents and teachers of kids like me is to set the bar high, not low. Challenge us! Figure out what would really motivate us and then don’t give up on us until we accomplish it. My parents have definitely helped me to never give up on myself. It makes me excited for the future.