4 Tips that Helped Me Manage My Child’s Autistic Behavior
As the mother of a 5 year old, taking care of a child’s needs, running after her, making sure I get something into her everytime and everyday can be quite a task. I’m often at my wits end and think there could be nothing worse….till I watch a friend go through this and much more with an autistic child.
As a mother of a 5 year old autistic child, Sita’s (name changed) life has been a roller coaster ride of behavior therapists, child counsellors and doctors over several years. What I might consider a regular day of temper tantrums might be a regular day of so much more for her, and she tells me she’s had to react and unlearn so much of what she had learned when preparing herself for her child. So many things that I consider a behavioral pattern for children this age, work counter-intuitively for her.
As she says, she has developed techniques and methodologies learned from her son that can help reduce tantrums, helped him follow directions and increase understanding between them. She shares those techniques below which although not a ‘one size fits all’, may work for other children in the spectrum.
Children are always putting up tantrums when they do not get something and this happens with all kids. In a child who is autistic, reasoning can be difficult. They often want something they cannot have at any moment. Whether it is a toy, a snack or something they want RIGHT NOW or something they just DON’T want to do. In these situations, rather than arguing with the kid, a better option would be to say ‘Do THIS, THEN THAT’. This statement makes the child understand that finishing a task is important before moving in to something else.
‘Eat THIS Breakfast, THEN we can go out and play’
‘Let’s finish THIS homework, then we can go outside’
Depending on what kind of cues your child can read, this can be done verbally, through cue cards or on a whiteboard.
USE TIME TO STOP TANTRUMS
Children often have trouble leaving places they like. This is very normal and children need just a bit of cajoling or may even have to be taken screaming out the door. With autism, these tantrums are often unpredictable and erratic. I’ve watched my child not listen to reason, or bribing or any diversion, but rolling on the floor or unpredictably running across the street or even hitting and biting back. It is very scary and helpless to watch.
It took a while to understand that these situations can be very upsetting for my son, and what changed it was giving a ‘time warning’ before change of any activity. 2-minute or 5-minute warnings helped him be ready for the change of activity and prempt the transition. This also set up a routine.
REWARD POSITIVE BEHAVIOR
Children love hearing positive words from parents, and autistic kids are no different. Identifying and affirming children’s positive actions encourages them to continue with it. Being specific about it, helps them identify an repeat that behavior.
For example, saying, “I love how you shared that Spiderman toy with Neeraj today” is better than saying, “I love that you share”. Voicing and encouraging behaviors that such children struggle with – following directions, listening, sharing – lets children know that they are noticed. Appreciating good behavior encourages it more.
As parents we are often going, ‘Don’t touch that thing! You can’t do this! Never touch that! NO NO NO’…there’s so much negativity we inadvertently speak that sometimes it is surprising how much work being positive gets done.
In some children, appreciating positive behavior does nothing. In such cases, a reward – however small – of some kind can be given. A candy or a sticker can seem like a bribe, but children with severe autism respond to a physical treat better, whether the reward is emotional, physical or something tangible.
Remaining calm is the hardest thing for all parents. With the stress of work and family, is the added responsibility of taking into account the behavior of an autistic child, dealing with them gently, pacifying them and calming them. When children go out of control, we often follow the same behavior.
Take deep breaths, speak calmly, even though there’s a storm roiling inside. Children haven’t yet mastered the language to explain what they want, and this frustrates them. A calm, gentle parent leads by example and they mimic the same. Children feel understood and accepted unconditionally.
Parenting is a wild ride, and no matter how much attention our children need, we need to react in a gentler manner to make them more accepting of themselves. Oftentimes what lack of communication you feel is just a lack of structure and control of the situation.
There’s more that this strong mum is going to share. Do send us any other queries you may have, or just a shout out to let us know you’re listening 🙂