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How to Hold Successful Family Meetings in an ASD Household

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As a parent, I was always looking for ways to boost family relationships. One activity I found to be very helpful in achieving that goal was holding regular family meetings. Do you understand the benefits of family meetings?

Would you like to start having them but don’t know where to begin?

Maybe you already hold family meetings but find it difficult to maintain a rhythm that works for your family?

family meetingFamily meetings can:

  • be very impromptu or intricately planned.
  • occur weekly, monthly or anytime in between
  • be as formal or informal, long or short, as you wish.

All family members can be made to feel a bigger part of the whole in a family meeting. Very young children, even those with an Autism Spectrum Disorder – verbal or not – can find ways to participate and feel special.

What’s important is to customize your meetings to fit the needs of your unique family.

I coached a single, divorced mother of three children, with two who are on the autism spectrum, who has held family meetings with great success. Initially the family meeting was established in response to increased aggression among the children in the household. Desperate to find a way to reduce the fighting, this mom decided to give family meetings a try and was very pleased with the results.

This mom created a safe meeting atmosphere by focusing on the positive things she wanted to see happen rather then dwelling on the negative. Soon after, she found that the aggression reduced by over 50% and the atmosphere in the family continually improved.

Hopefully this inspires some of you to give family meetings a try. There is no cookie cutter recipe or one-size-fits-all approach but here are eight simple strategies you can pick and choose from to create a meeting style of your own.

  1. Plan around a special meal. Identify a meal that your children look forward to create an informal meeting around it. When you gather around pizza or popcorn and then a movie, it makes a family meeting more enticing to all.
  2. Make it sensory-friendly. Pay attention to any sensory issues in the environment. Consider space, lighting, noise and other things that might cause a child to become over-stimulated and therefore distracted. 
  3. Develop a family agenda. Give every family member input into the meeting. When children can suggest topics to be discussed it gives them a sense of ownership and increases participation.
  4. Establish a routine ceremony. Consider beginning or ending the meeting by highlighting something positive about each member. This encourages the giving and receiving of compliments.  Using a song, a pledge, a chant or a poem are other possibilities for opening and closing rituals.
  5. Set goals.  Determine individual and family goals – both short and long term. Once set, review the progress regularly and mention what everyone is doing to help make it happen.
  6. Clarify Expectations.  Be specific when discussing issues at family meeting. This is important for children with autism who tend to be literal and concrete thinkers. If talking about chores, “Put the dishes in the dishwasher,” is more precise than, “Clean the kitchen.”
  7. Put it on a Calendar. Coordinate busy schedules by writing down activities and appointments, including family meeting time. Keeping a visual family calendar works well and makes life more predictable – something children with autism thrive on.
  8. Make it fun. Family meetings are a great time for laughter and fun – a great way to promote bonding among all participants. Music, crafts, games, theater and other activities all have the potential for making meetings memorable and will ensure that everyone will want to come back for more.

Whatever recipe you create for your family meetings I encourage you to hold them regularly. Having consistent family meetings to look forward to instead of ones that occur in reaction to a crisis will guarantee that they continue to be met with positive anticipation.

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Please share your family meeting tips in the comment box. We would love to hear your ideas!

 

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