Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Responding to Challenging Situations with Your Autistic Child

I haven't written much about either one of my boys recently on the blog, at least not in any specific kind of way. Part of that is is because I haven't had much to write about. The other is that I am never sure what is too much when speaking about them in their youth in this public forum. The main part is that my writing style has shifted a bit to a more general subject matter that specifically includes my personal thoughts about life, and is less about autism in, and of itself.

This entry is one in which I hope does not breech my son's privacy boundaries to a great extent, but still is able to get a point across that I am wanting to.

Bubby is now 14 years old. He's grown into a fine young man with a deepening voice, and a fuzzy little mustache above his top lip. This summer he will be getting his learner's permit to begin to drive. To be honest, I have no idea how that will go. I suspect it will go fine. He's doing very well in school with his current IEP.

It was not always this way. There was so much that we had to go through with the school to get to where we are, and attitudes we had to change.

What if I told you all that 80% of the issues that I see parents (and school staff) face with their autistic kids can be resolved by viewing it in a different perspective? Would you be interested in learning a different way to interact with your child so that meltdowns, and arguments don't ensue so frequently?

The biggest mistakes I see most parents make with their autistic children are
that they- 1: Read intent into the child's actions that is not there. 2: Expect the child to operate well above their emotional capability within that moment.

Let me give two recent examples from my own life with Bubby.

Bubby was at the computer with his headphones on like he usually is, and the dog starts barking. Bubby gets overwhelmed, and tries to take his headphones off in a quick way that causes them to fall apart. He comes into the kitchen to complain about what the dog made him do, because he was mad. He needs new ones. He's upset. I tell him we will get him new ones next time we go to the store, but until then I have some earbuds he can use, and I hand him a new package of earbuds. "Is this all you got?", he growls back.

Let's pause.

What would a lot of you do? Would you decide that was the last straw, and punish him? Maybe tell him how he's being rude, or take something away for having a bad attitude?

I wanted to. My left eye twitched. I was irritated, but I repeated that all I had was those, and I thought he might be happy that I had a new package for him to use. He took them, and left the room. He calmed down later.

The thing is, he was approaching meltdown, quick. To punish him would be wrong. The reason he was melting down was due to sensory overwhelm, and one of his (very few) personal items breaking that he uses regularly. I could have tried to explain it to him later, but I don't think he would have understood it. He just isn't there yet. It's not that he is being purposely rude. He doesn't understand what he said wrong, because he is not able to comprehend it. If I try to make him what you will have is a very angry child/teen full of shame who will feel like everything he does is his fault. He will either begin to act out, and be naughty, or he will begin to fall into himself, and apologize for everything, because since he doesn't understand what he did wrong the social world makes no sense to him. He will just say he's sorry for everything, hoping it will stick, and get him out of any bad situation.

Situation Number Two:

Bubby was emptying the dishwasher. He had a cup of Kool-Aid on top of it that he was drinking, and he accidentally knocked it over causing it to spill everywhere. There wasn't a lot in the cup, so I stood by waiting to see how he would clean it up, instead of jumping in to do it for him. He picked up the cup, and surveyed the situation. Then slowly began to drink the Kool-Aid that was left in the cup as the puddle on the dishwasher grew toward all the mail, and everything else!

Again. Let's pause.

It almost looks like he's self-centered, and just doesn't care about other people's stuff. He's moving slow, and seemed to be cavalier about the mess. I did jump in, and clean it up without saying anything. He looked at me like he awaited some kind of scolding, but I know it was an accident. He got defensive, and I explained to him that I wasn't mad. I was just trying to get all of my papers before they got damaged.

I think that's one of those things that's hard for people who aren't (or even who are but are different) autistic to understand. How can a person be able to, say wake up, make themselves breakfast, and get to school on time completely on their own, but lack the executive functioning skills to react to a spilled drink properly? They're different, and that's that. They require completely different ways of thinking. Respect that, and life will be much happier at your house.

"But, what about their boss/wife/husband?"  I hear this all the time. It's so weird to me. We have people with 7 year old autistic kids worrying over employment options for the future. When they're 14, like Bubby is, it becomes more of a reality, but we're still not there yet. Things can change in the next 4-6 years. If it doesn't, then it doesn't. One thing that I desperately, and I do mean desperately, tried to get his special ed teacher to understand is that it doesn't matter what society might need him to be. You cannot make him have skills he doesn't have. Trying to make him cope with situations that he is not able to cope with emotionally will not make him stronger. It will not teach him. Forcing him to endure school work, and other situations where his executive functioning skills are failing will not render positive results that an employer is looking for.

Support them where they are, even when you feel their behavior seems "disrespectful", or "unacceptable". Look for the reasons behind it. Ask an autistic friend to help you find clues if you can't figure it out. I promise your house will be much more peaceful.


  1. I needed this. We have been in basically the same situation but our son is under 12...and now he just lost his favourite grandmother...I needed to hear this...even though it happens to me in another form myself - as a woman I have a little bit gentler approach in my meltdowns but I still do it too- so it shocks me when my son will suddenly be aggressive but I KNOW its not what it seems and yet still I unravel sometimes and it takes all my self control not to say something censoring at times. You are a good parent. This is so good.

    1. Thank you. I have never been quite that talk backy as my son, because overall I think I've always had the emotional understanding to comprehend that it's rude, but I can be rather short, and to the point, especially when anxious, or about to meltdown. My initial parenting reaction to his behavior is to correct him, and tell him he's not getting away with talking to me like that, but I know that won't help, so I do have to stop myself short, with everything that I have! lol

      I know I already said it on your blog, but I'm sorry for your family's loss. Please let me know if there is anything I can do, and know that my email is always open for a chat.

  2. This is so good, i'm going to put up a link on my page to it.

  3. So how does this expectation play out with regards to school, homework, etc.?


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