For the past few months, I’ve been walking on eggshells around my son, desperately seeking ways to avoid setting him off while still ensuring that he “behaves.” It’s been tough to see old techniques useless in the face of his latest developmental stage. So I was hopeful that I’d walk away with some new strategies from Monday’s Managing Challenging Behavior in Kids with Autism class.
I didn’t. Instead I walked away with a whole new way of approaching our relationship.
The speaker, Samantha Moe, started by describing different behavior types:
- Intense Brain Child
- Downstairs Brian vs. Upstairs Brain
- Little Scientist
and outlining “fire in the brain,” her way of explaining what is happening neurologically when our kids are in fight or flight mode. She then went on to describe common parenting landmines that trigger fight or flight mode. I saw how I fall into many of those. But that was just the first of eight pillars of parenting she presented:
- Avoid the hidden parenting landmines – tiggers that set your child off, amplifying anger, frustration and fighting
- Calm the fire – escalating behaviors are a sign of “fire in the brain,” where yelling or physical punishment makes things worse, not better
- Flood the brain with happy chemicals – kids grow accustomed to the chemical burst of drama and anxiety, shift their chemistry so they seek out calm and happy states
- Red light parenting – take back the reins in your household by helping your child understand that rules apply to them and listening/cooperating is required, not optional
- Discipline that motivates and energizes – traditional discipline, i.e. time-out, do not work well for children with autism. Instead their retaliation response is activated, and they become more demanding
- Defuse the emotional bomb – kids with autism have BIG emotions and tend to struggle with coping skills, tolerance and flexibility
- Develop daily routines – structured routines for morning, after-school and bedtime create a rhythm that is soothing, predictable and decreases urges to resist or negotiate
- Integrate – as you add new skills to your parenting toolbox you’ll find more support when your partner and other family members understand the approach
And as she moved through these pillars, I began to see, concretely, how what I do really matters. As Samantha said, ” Your child with autism is hyper vigilant, meaning they notice and absorb everything about you. So what you do matters, when you have a kid who is co-regulating off your mental/emotional state.”
Simply put, as I approach my child tense and awaiting a blowout, he responds to me in a state of tension and imminent meltdown. And the light bulb went on. Instead of managing my child’s behavior with yet another effective-for-a-time technique, I needed to reshape our relationship.
I have shifted from wondering “what is wrong,” into seeking out the missing link. Once that’s identified, I am ready to be the external brain that pulls things together, the bridge between logic and emotion. Using heartfelt appreciation with both my children has immediately shifted the mood of our home closer to calm. And it’s allowed me to take a breath, regroup and look for the good in my child.
In that space, we all flourish.