I’ve written a couple of pieces in a row about the idea of “symptoms” of Autism. The first thing you should understand, is that what I refer to as “symptoms” are more or less properly referred to as “behaviors.” I use the word “symptoms,” because for Autistic folks—at least some of them—behaviors are a matter of compulsion. That is, many folks dealing with Autism from a first person perspective, have a very hard time not behaving in the ways they do.
That’s not to say they cannot overcome “bad” behaviors, just the it’s a great deal harder for them to overcome that powerful “need” than for most people I’ve ever met.
So when you see my child “misbehaving,” and assume the “answer” is “a good paddling,” you need to understand that you’re almost certainly bent on a course of action that—if I heeded your counsel—would cause it to take substantially longer for get him over the “compelling misbehavior.”
You see one of the very first things I learned (more than thirty years ago) as a parent, is that using the same “tactics” for all children, will most assuredly not end in the same results. For example, for my son, spankings and even really “stern talkings to” have virtually the exact opposite effect to those desired.
You need to be fully aware that none of my other children (I have three others), “worked like” my youngest. The closest was the last (prior to him).
I think I’ve said enough about this, except perhaps to indicate what does tend “work when” dealing with my son. There are two motivators, one for “easy” situations, one for more “difficult” ones.
The one for simpler situations, is totally counterintuitive. It is talking to him like an adult, but even then, not allowing oneself to express tension or anger or concern (for the most part). The second—for ore difficult times—is serious disincentive. By this, I mean, finding what he likes and wants, and moving drastically away from that thing. You can use lesser disincentives, or threats of disincentives in “middle ground” situations, both tend to be moderately effective.
Having, I think, been rather clear on that, I want to broach another subject that is maybe more important to those who end up dealing with my son and likely with other Autistic children. That would be “What do you do when you see my child misbehaving, particularly where your child(ten) is(are) concerned?”
I should tell you that my perspective has not changed a great deal where this is concerned. As a rule, if a child misbehaves around me. Unless harm is coming or likely to come to someone, leave the actions to be taken, most particularly “discipline,” to the parents. If it appears that someone is going to come to harm, do your best to extract that person or those persons from the situation. An important point, as a rule, do not attempt to get the Autistic kid out of the situation unless you know the child in question (and typically have the permission of the parent(s) or guardian(s) so to do), or are trained in dealing with Autistic children.
Now comes an important consideration. You have expectations of “normal” children, I get that. My child is not a “normal” child. He is Autistic. As such your expectations of him are great, and I work daily, on helping him to meet the expectations I know others will have for him. That being said, you need to understand that what you expect of him, is often virtually totally meaningless to him.
So I will make him tell your child how sorry he is—particularly if you insist on his doing so—but I want you to understand that it means little to nothing to him. In fact, on many occasions, he has no understanding that he has done badly or wrongly to begin with. As such, when you ask him to say something like, “I’m sorry,” cannot and will not result in what you expect. Rather, I must provide disincentives sufficiently stern as to make it clear what he is doing or has done, is a problem.
In short, as little as I like it, I am tasked with, “being my son’s conscience.” The hope in my actions, comes from the idea that he will learn patterns that are acceptable and eschew those that are not.
In Garrett’s life, it should be understood, there will always be a concern that he will not realize something he’s doing—potentially even something quite major—is wrong or bad.
It’s my hope that I can largely train him out of such behaviors, but I remain somewhat pessimistic to that idea at this point.
Parents of other Autistic children will likely have more or less success, depending on the child in question.
The most important point in all I have said may or may not seem significant to you, but it’s so important to me as to bear repeating. When you’re out and about, assume neither your right nor your responsibility to deal with children around you. Yes, you must protect your children. Yes you should work to protect the children of others. Past that, your best hope is that the parent(s) or guardian(s) of the child “misbehaving” are present and aware.
For my part, you can trust that this is the case. Rarely is my child out of my direct line of sight (much to his chagrin) when he’s in my care. I expect nothing less when he’s in the care of others (and need to know if that is not the case).
I work toward the idea of his being able to be left alone and be on his best (or at least relatively good) behavior. I am far from sure this will ever happen. In the end though, unless you know a child or the behavior he or she exhibits, I highly suggest you leave him or her alone where possible.
Two more considerations, and I’ll leave things be.
First, I live with the judging eyes, looks, sneers and snarky statements on a daily basis, unless you make it impossible to do so (very unlikely), count on me paying pretty much no mind when you act as so many have done. My “job” is bringing up my child, not in placating or otherwise making you happy.
Second, though you have made things harder by your acts toward my child if you encounter him and do not heed my counsel, the chances are you’ll never know this is the case. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that I truly don’t have time to mess with you. I have a moderately Autistic almost-seven-year-old to look after. The second is, in some measure, I used to be you. As such, it’s hard to fault you for you position—errant or not.
Okay, at the end of this piece. Thanks for reading, and may your time be good.