Although often well-meaning, comments intended as “constructive” recommendations are often construed as critical and hurtful. For example, a high school student with autism wrote about her reaction to “constructive criticism” by family members. In a similar vein, parents of a youngster with autism commented on their reaction to “constructive criticism” offered in a planning meeting by a teacher and a therapist about some aspects of their home life.
Constructive criticism is an issue that involves both the speaker and the listener. The speaker usually concentrates on the “constructive” side of such comments, but the listener is often sensitive to the “criticism” aspect of the remarks. Both sides can benefit from focusing on moderation.
The Speaker. Sometimes it is necessary and helpful for us to offer advice or guidance to others. The trick is to make recommendations in a productive, encouraging manner. This doesn’t mean we need to sugarcoat every suggestion, but we can focus on constructive solutions rather than on judgmental accusations. So, for example, a teacher might be frustrated at the apparent lack of involvement by parents in language development for their child. Rather than saying, “You need to do more at home to encourage Lucille to talk,” the teacher could come up with some suggestions that can be implemented easily at home. Then, at the planning meeting at school, she could say something like, “Isn’t it great to hear Lucille start using words? Some of our students really move forward in language when we take some time every day to sit in a quiet place and read to them. What do you think about our doing that at home and at school for 15 minutes every day? We could all draw a star on “Lucille’s Reading Card” each day after we read to her. That card chart in her backpack would help me remember to take time to read to her each day. Maybe she could trade in the card at the end of the week for a new library book or for some extra swinging time at recess. What do you think?”
The Listener. Most of us resist advice and guidance, even when the speaker has the best intentions. Sometimes their comments are, indeed, hurtful and or presented in a judgmental manner. Under those circumstances, we can get mad or we can ignore their comments. Better yet, we can set aside our personal feelings and listen carefully for suggestions that are, indeed, helpful and constructive. Granted, this is easier said than done, but it is certainly more productive than responding angrily. Our high school friend with autism wrote, “My mom’s comments really upset me, but I didn’t talk back to her. My mom might say that she isn’t yelling or sounding mad, but I take it that way.” She conceded that her mom did make some good points about homework. This teen’s response is a good model for all of us to follow.
NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At FAQautism.com we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. Send email to talk@FAQautism.com And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism. http://FAQautism.com