Maximizing Gifts

“In spite of years of effort by dedicated teachers and therapists and lots of attention from a loving family, my son isn’t able to talk or read anything but functional words,” commented a father of a young adult with autism. “But he has been given many opportunities over the years to use what gifts he does have. For example, he is proud of being in charge of many important tasks around the house because he is the only person in our family who has a good memory.”

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This young man’s family was perceptive enough to notice his excellent memory and to give him opportunities to use that gift in a productive way around the house. He is in charge of feeding and watering the pets, taking laundry out of the dryer, turning on all the alarm clocks, watering the plants, and locking the front door and turning out the porch light every night. His family really depends on his help.

Granted, some individuals with autism are capable of much more sophisticated tasks and others would not be able to complete even one of those tasks independently. But the key is to find the gifts of each individual, to help nurture and improve those skills, then find ways for them to use their gifts in a way that contributes to the community.

Even people with significant limitations can be productive and helpful if given the chance. It may be that they can lead their class to the lunchroom or pick out a book for circle time. Maybe they can turn out the light when the class leaves for recess or carry a lunch box for a classmate who is unable to hold the box. Maybe they can push the dust mop around the house or bring the mail in from the mailbox. Maybe they can put the clothes in the washer or pull them out of the dryer into a basket. The point is to help each person feel like they are useful and needed. If you want more ideas about how to maximize the gifts of a person you know who functions on the spectrum of autism, send us a few details and we’ll share some possibilities. Send me an e-mail to

Note to listeners and readers: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. You can click on a button to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solutions. Check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism.

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