One of the hardest parts of being an autism parent, especially in the beginning is deciphering your kid and his behavior. Why in the world is he doing that? What is he so angry about? Is this a tantrum or a meltdown? Why can’t I get him to (insert any activity here)?
As you grow as a unit, you begin to understand more about how your kid works. You get better at predicting behaviors, and identifying triggers (more on that in another post this week). Your skills and knowledge increase exponentially.
And yet, as I’ve written before, you will always have your moments of complete and utter dumbfoundedness (is that a word? If it wasn’t, it is now), and better yet, you forget sometimes about stuff I like to call “Autism 101”.
So what are the “Autism 101” basics I forget from time to time?
- One of the biggest culprits for negative behaviors is a virus. I will get phone calls or emails from the school, out of the blue about work refusal from The Boy, or escaping from class, or any number of negative behaviors. My first instinct is still defensive, i.e. “What did you (the teacher or aide) do to trigger his behavior?”. And that is simply because he is a good kid, and doesn’t act out. He hates displeasing me or The Man or his grandparents, and when this behavior happens, there’s a reason. What I often forget is that a common reason has nothing to do with action and reaction, and everything to do with cold and flu. Viruses do a number on his system, and much like a computer, he starts acting very strangely indeed.
- Another big culprit for negative behavior is (forgive me) an upcoming bowl movement. You see, The Boy had surgery as an infant, in which they removed part of his intestine, and moved some things around in there. As a result, well… let’s just say that if there was a super-duty (heh, heh… I said “doody”) wide-throated toilet, we’d have it. And much like the wonder of childbirth, I really don’t understand the physics of how something so big can come out of something so small. As a result, poops are not regular, nor are they fun. And I have found that sometimes they are preceded by some really wonky behavior.
- He may say he’s not hungry, but give The Boy a snack because hungry turns into negative behavior. This is one instance where trying to respect your child’s independence, and listen to their voice and burgeoning self-advocacy does not work. If you don’t give him anything, he will become even more absorbed in what he is doing until his body forces him to react to the hunger, and it’s rarely in a good way.
- The Boy is verbal, but still lacks language. The Boy loves words, finds words funny and punny, and is able to express and receive language. He is in a high-functioning autism pilot program, even though he would not have been classified as having Asperger’s Syndrome. He had language delays as a toddler – I had to teach him language with flashcards, and he went to speech therapy twice a week for a long time. He does really well now, but he still lacks language to express himself appropriately sometimes. There are situations where he cannot find words to say what he wants to say, so he leads me to the right guess. But sometimes I can’t guess, and I have to remember that even though he has high functioning language skills, they were hard-earned, and this is not natural for him.
- Pictures, pictures, pictures, pictures, pictures. Sometimes I will ask myself, “Why is he not understanding this?” and I have a “Doh!” moment and think, “Maybe because you just told him about it, and didn’t use any pictures, dummy!” There’s a reason well-respected autism professionals talk about picture schedules until they are blue in the face – it’s because they work. Our kiddos are generally very visual learners, and if something just isn’t sinking in, a video or picture will usually do the trick.
- Intrinsic Motivation just isn’t it. Rewards and motivators are king. And I’ll be honest – I don’t forget this one (as sometimes The Boy’s teachers at school seem to), but I do forget to have a ready supply of rewards and motivators in my bag of tricks. When I don’t have something at the ready, I sometimes resort to taking away privileges, which doesn’t work nearly as well. More on this in the upcoming behaviors and triggers post…
How is it possible to forget this basic stuff that one should know after 13 years of experience? Because there are peaks and valleys to child development, and even bigger peaks and valleys in the development of a young person on the spectrum (in my personal experience). There’s a lot of backtracking, having to recoup skills that were considered mastered, and as they grow more independent, you forget they are still kids, still learning.
There is no mastering of parenting, I’m convinced. It’s Murphy’s Law – once you think you know everything, you will be quickly shown that you do not.