I don’t know what to say except that everyone’s response to the previous posts about Sam and autism has been amazing! From comments shared face to face or left on facebook or email, everyone has been so kind and encouraging. It has truly blessed me.
Many of you shared that you know of someone with an autistic child but how difficult it is to be around them. The parents do little, if anything, to control or at the very least contain the child’s behavior. In my opinion and experience, parents with children on the spectrum tend to underestimate their child. I know we did. Rob was terrified at the idea that Sam couldn’t connect the punishment with the action and would only view him as this big hairy guy that caused him pain. So for a long time we were in disaster containment and damage control mode. And then one day we realized that even if he only associates pain with running toward the street then so be it. Better the sting of a swat to his backside then being hit by a car.
A notable amount of behavior in autistic kids can be due more to poor expectations and a lack of discipline. There is more to discipline than spankings and that is what I have in view here. Discipline is also defined as “the checking of one’s feelings and impulses…” and that’s what I am talking about. What makes this so very hard, especially with young children, is that you are kind of walking around in the dark with a blindfold on.
With an autistic child there can be some serious melt down hissy fit throwing episodes. They can happen in the blink of an eye and for no apparent reason and with no easy fix. Sam was a big Barney fan and he had a favorite video that he watched literally over and over again. He had probably seen it about elevenity thousand times when all of a sudden, out of the blue one day it came to a certain part and he totally freaked out. And I don’t mean he got a little upset and cried either. He was hysterical, crying uncontrollably and seemed completely terrified. With Sam there was no simple way of just picking him up and offering comfort to soothe him. Remember the lack of response to the banging pots? A child can be so locked into whatever is in their head that they literally cannot even know you’re there. You can’t love them out of it, nor can you spank them out of it. Why didn’t you just turn the video off you ask? Because if anything that made it escalate. Whatever was going through his head in that moment had to be finished…it could not just be cut off.
I know that doesn’t make any sense and certainly doesn’t seem rational but a lot of things about autism don’t make sense and are for sure not rational. Whatever that part was in the video for Sam lasted about three and a half minutes and then he would be as calm as he could be. Odder still is that it lasted for about a month and then as suddenly as it showed up, it stopped being an issue. The same thing happened with Madagascar and the song “I Like to Move It, Move It”. At first he loved it but then one day if he heard it he would run screaming from the room.
Walmart could completely freak him out. I had a small window of time that I could get in and get out before he just lost it. Over stimulation has a razor sharp edge that is paper thin when it comes to kids with autism. It’s still an issue we face with him even now, large groups and places with lots of noise and activity can tip him over the edge rather quickly. It looks a little different these days than it used to but the fall out is still as frustrating and emotionally draining for him and for us.
I mention this because if you’ve seen an autistic child having an episode please know that there is no simple answer. Sometimes you cope as best you can. Sometimes you are so utterly overwhelmed and exhausted that you can’t even muster up the energy to try to do more than just survive it without bursting into tears because of the nasty looks and rude comments from complete strangers or suggestions from well meaning family and friends.
That being said, I will reiterate that discipline can and should be the goal. We work hard with Sam and it is constant. Everything with Sam is extreme. If it’s was time for him to get off the computer he’d ask, “For the day? A week? A month? A Year?!” That one doesn’t happen as often as it used to but still slips out occasionally. When it’s time for school, “That’s it! Play time is over. I have to work all day. Mom hates play time.” Invariably in the mornings when I wake him up he mutters something about me being a dream killer. If there are vegetables on his plate, “Am I a vegetarian now?” It seems like no big deal but after hearing it for the thousandth time your patience can wear a little thin and really you just want him to take his plate and eat his dinner for crying out loud!
So, really this is how we deal with the autism in our life. With persistence. We’ve determined what behaviors are acceptable and what expectations we want put on him. We want them to be reasonable but at the same time not allow autism to be a shield to hide behind. Children, all children, need an expectation and standard to live up to. Failing to give them that is a pretty big deal. Basically our approach to parenting a child with autism is the same as parenting our other children…just on steroids.
Next week I’ll share about different treatments and therapies and what worked for us and what didn’t. At the root of it all though is a desire to raise this child God has given us in a way that honors and glorifies Him. It’s not just to control or beat the autism into submission but to raise up a godly man that thinks a little differently, that views the world from a slightly different perspective, but still loves the Lord with all his heart and all his mind, and with all his strength.
I’ll share a Sam story with you now. Rob is a pastor. Sam sits very quietly in church and we’re never really share exactly what he is hearing and how much he is paying attention but we know that he is and he does. Several years ago during his sermon Rob mentioned something like, “I’m a sinner. You’re a sinner. We’re all sinners.” Sam’s head popped up and he looked right at his Daddy and pointing to his chest asked, “Even me?!” Rob, who is ever so patient with this son of his, responded, “Yes, buddy even you.” Sam responds with, “Yikes I am in big trouble!” and then waved his hand to Rob as if there was nothing to see here, move along and told him, “Keep speeching.”