This morning was one of those mornings at the Parker house. I am completely frustrated and it is not even 7:30 AM. As I sit here drinking coffee while Luke eats his “white donuts” for breakfast and watches videos on YouTube about Jurassic Park toys, I am counting down all the things I must do today before I can go back to bed. This morning I almost called it quits. Who needs school anyways? I am pretty sure they can learn whatever they need watching TV or playing XBOX.
I am sure for most families, school days can be a real struggle. For many like us there is the high school kid who doesn’t want to get out of bed until there is exactly 75 seconds remaining before you need to leave the house to get to school on time. Then there is the 4-year-old who eagerly gets out of bed but takes forever to get into the car because they are walking out the door carrying two blankets, a Power Ranger, a Batman, a sword and a glass of milk. “Please leave your blankets here.”, I said. “But I ‘meed’ them.”, is the reply I got.
Then there is Austin, our middle child with autism. Waking him up each morning is like choosing a piece of chocolate out of a Valentines box of candy. You may choose something really sweet and delicious or you may get something filled with chalk flavored toothpaste that makes you gag and spit all over your new shirt. Some mornings he is eager to get his shoes on and head to the car. Other days he is grabbing his shoes from the closet and throwing them across the room as far as possible. Today was more on the later end. There are days when everyone can wake up on the wrong side of the bed. For a child with autism, sometimes its like they woke up on the wrong side of the bed and it was the side next to the 100 foot cliff.
Austin sometimes has a difficult time transitioning between tasks. In order to leave for school before 7:00AM, I usually try to wake him up around 5:50AM to give him plenty of time to play with his toys before we try to get ready for school. This morning I woke him up and for a good twenty minutes he played with his iPad on his bed laughing at silly videos. When it was time to put his clothes on, it went really smoothly, probably because we were putting on a red shirt, which is his favorite color. The problem arose when it was time to go to the bathroom to brush teeth and fix hair.
Today was all about defiance. Austin did not want to go into the bathroom and get ready and he was very definitive in his position. It first began when he refused to walk to the bathroom. You can tell it is going to be a problem when he just stands in the hall glaring at you, daring you to push him down the hall. Once I finally got him to the bathroom and was ready to brush his teeth, that was when he would not open his mouth and stood there with his lips clenched tightly together, almost as if he was puckering up for a kiss he did not want to happen.
It took some time but once I finally got his mouth open, he went to the ol’ standby trick, shoving his index fingers up his nose. That’s right; two fingers, two hands. Have you every brushed a kids teeth with both of their fingers shoved up their nose? I don’t know if you know this, but it is not very easy. I have mastered it though due to all the practice I have received. Once the teeth were brushed it was on to the hair. Of course, every time I thought I had it fixed, he would throw his hands up onto his head and mess it up and say “Headache”. I finally gave up on the hair and just decided to go with a more natural look. That went on for several minutes. Once that was over, he didn’t want to walk down the stairs. Then he didn’t want to put his coat on, or get his backpack, or even walk out to the car. If you were one of my neighbors, this morning as we were walking out to the car you would have seen boys, backpacks, Batman, tears and snot.
All children display some defiance at some point. Luke, at the age of 4, is trying to test his boundaries with us now. With a child with autism, the challenge is overcoming the defiance. With my other two boys, I have a couple of options. First, I can punish them by maybe taking a toy or cell phone away from them. I can even send them to time out. Another option is to reward them, OK, maybe bribe them is a better choice of words. Luke will do just about anything for some candy. Austin is completely different. Sometimes the reward of a sucker will get him to follow instructions, like sitting still in the chair while getting a haircut. Other times, the only way to make him happy is to let him simply go back to his room and put his pajamas back on. Unfortunately that was not an option today so I had to continue to fight through his behavior.
As a special needs parent, these types of battles are inevitable. Every child responds differently so it is hard to know exactly how to deal with each one when similar situations arise. In my experience, I think three things can make it easier to deal with a defiant sprint.
Try to allow yourself and your child enough time to make the transition slowly. Rushing might only make things worse. If you know it generally takes 30 minutes to complete a task, trying starting the task 15-20 minutes earlier. The more time they have to do what they want, the easier it might be for the to transition to what you are asking them to do.
Be patient with them. They may not be able to perform a task at your speed. Yes, it can be very frustrating when they are moving slow or not even moving at all. Applying pressure can have two effects, it can either speed them up or it can backfire on you and explode.
Letting your frustration show can often escalate the situation. Raising your voice may work for your typical children but may backfire with your special needs child. Instead of responding to your frustration with action, they may be more inclined to imitate your level. By remaining calm and presenting a positive attitude, you can be a calming influence when situations are difficult.
When we have special needs children, there are many things out of our control. Sometimes their behavior is one of those uncontrollable items. Yet, there is one thing we can control and that is ourselves. The challenge is to make sure our response to their behavior does not make things worse.