There are many things I’ve learned from my years raising children on the spectrum. Right now I would call it an innate, intuitive knowledge. Seven years ago I would have called it a royal pain in the rear.
Let me explain. Seven years ago I knew there was something unusual about the extreme reactions my children were giving me to certain stimuli but I didn’t know why. Therefore, being a typical mom following the ‘rules’ of parenting, I just assumed I wasn’t doing my job well enough. I spent quite a few years of training the way the ‘experts’ told me to do them and failing miserably to train my children out of their tantrums and misdeeds. One child, and quite a while later, another child was diagnosed with Autism and I started tailoring my parenting to meet the needs of these children in their own special way. Those books? They ended up in the recycle bin.
Want an example? OK. Lets talk shoes. Everyone wears them, right? Everyone has their own favorites – whether it’s flip flops, stillettos, Nike cross trainers. But for those who are blessed with super sensitive nerves, skin, hearing, and all sorts of other wonderful blessings (i.e. many folks on the spectrum), shoes may be a serious trigger for panic. One of my children went through a severe shoe aversion period. Imagine taking an incredibly sensory overloaded child to the mall to get shoes. Mistake number one – but in my defense I had no idea that she was on the spectrum at that point. Imagine then getting this severely stressed six year old to try on a pair of shoes, then another, and trying desperately to get through a third pair – that lasted all of 15 minutes before the meltdowns escalated to the point of no return. Pair after pair after pair of shoes were purchased – then immediately rejected because of (to my NT mind) insignificant little details. One pair was too tight, one pair was touching a part of her foot that she didn’t like, one shoe had a label sewn into the tongue, one had a label sewn into the sole, she HAD to wear *shudder* socks with one pair, the straps on another were itchy. It got so bad that some weeks the melt-downs lasted for days on end. The rage, tantrums, screaming, kicking… days on end.
So what did I do, way back then? I floundered. Many days I forced her to wear the hated, dreaded, vile, disgusting, hysteria-making shoes – quoting the “I spent good money on these shoes that YOU said you liked! And now, by golly, you’ll wear them!” – and then bringing down the hammer of discipline when she had the inevitable meltdown. I then got annoyed, threw the pair of shoes into the goodwill box and made her go barefoot and brought down the hammer of discipline when she had the inevitable meltdown (again). Um…so much for conventional parenting wisdom…
These lessons were very hard to learn. For me, the parent who was going insane trying to figure out how to deal with these horrible behaviors, and for her, the child who was spending her energy not flipping out over these daily excruciating sensations.Lesson 1. Never assume. Know what you’re dealing with (Autism, sensory issues) and don’t just assume your child is being defiant on purpose. Lesson 2. when you figure out what you’re dealing with, preparing and pro-active planning are absolutely essential. Lesson 3. if all else fails and there is a meltdown, don’t focus on punishment – focus on teaching ways to deal with the situation better next time.
So, now after all these years, some things have become second nature. Intuitive. As natural as breathing.
Transitions need to be clearly defined. This prepares the child for what is to come giving her power over her future and a sense of security.
Using a timer is an absolute MUST in my family.
I know that I need to give a 5 minute warning, and stick to it. When the timer rings, I know that I will need to allow the girls time to finish the game they are playing before turning off the computer, or time to finish the game with friends, or time to finish that page they are reading. To say “timer went ding – get off NOW!” guarantees a meltdown of massive proportion.
Where one child needs solitude in order to regroup and chill out, another needs serious one on one time preferably with deep physical contact.
One child is sound sensitive, so I put her as far away from lip-smacking, soup slurping chatterboxes as possible. I prepare her for possible noisy places by reminding her to bring headphones or ear plugs. I instinctively know that after a loud event (such as a car ride with 6 siblings in “YEAH! School’s out!” mode) she will most likely have a headache and I should refrain from talking to her.
I know that time is an issue for these children. One has a very hard time dealing with concepts of “later” and “soon” or any other non-specific, abstract time concept. Giving exact times helps prevent perseverance. One has a very intense need to be exactly on-time. When she feels that we are ‘late’ for an event or appointment it is overwhelming.
When giving chore assignments, one child has to be as far away from others as possible – including not crossing anyone’s path as she goes back and forth putting things away. The best of the best situation is to let her do her job when everyone is finished with theirs and playing either in their rooms or outside. The other one needs constant re-direction. I have learned to ignore the “it IS clean!” and just simply shove everything into a pile into the middle of the room that is supposedly ‘clean’. Working one on one with this child is an absolute must, as she is still young and has the attention span of a flea on speed.
In the van, I have become the master at strategically orchestrating entrance and egress. I know not to put one of my girls in the rear. Between the motion sickness and noise, the inevitable fight over the loudness of the radio and the force at which the a/c is blowing it simply isn’t worth it! And when entering and exiting the rear of the van I know that there will be casualties from her rage at having to sit in the back like a ‘little kid’. I know better than to put the other in the seat next to 1. a loose seat belt, 2. a child, or 3. directly behind the front seat. I know that I need to make her take her shoes off and put them on the floor before we get moving. Many times over the years I’ve had to pull over to the side of the road to assess injuries after she has used a seat belt buckle as a lasso or a flying shoe has beaned someone upside the head.
Many momma’s have to plan strategically for events, and maybe even for bath time and bedtime, but you should see what we go through to have a decent meal! I know not to sit child a next to child d and child c must not be across from child a or f. And heaven forbid child e is near enough for child b to touch her!
I should be a military strategist – or at least a doctorate level educator for all the real world experience I bring to the table…