Friday, May 2, 2014

Questions You Don't Think You Should Ask: Why Don't You Leave?

This question seems much like yesterday's but I swear they are different.  Yesterday's question gets to the point of why we want Isaac to participate in the community.  Today's question is more about how we teach him to deal with the transitions and complexity of life outside of his normal routine.

Many understand that it is Isaac's right as a community member to participate in community life.  Many read yesterday's statements and would never argue the point that Isaac be allowed access to stores, schools, places of worship, etc.  Many understand and are kind if Isaac exhibits happy behaviors.

Understanding is replaced by fear when Isaac becomes unhappy.  Fear can open the floodgates for all sorts of unfortunate behavior.

First, fair disclosure...  Isaac struggles with language.  He has learned to use it, but it is difficult.  Isaac will at times communicate via behavior.  Sometimes, Isaac is tired of being at the store or is bored with his current activity or wishes we would just move on already.   It is difficult for him to politely interject with, "Excuse me Mom.  I would like to move on now.  I would like to leave.  I am not having a particularly pleasant time."  I would think myself hallucinating if he did say that.

Isaac is more likely to communicate by proceeding up a behavioral pyramid which begins with vocal sounds and can end with a full on meltdown.  The meltdown is usually directed at me but is not personal.  It is communication.  He is expressing his frustration with me and his desire to leave his current environment. Sometimes, it is possible to cut things short and leave at the beginning of the behavior pyramid.  Sometimes, though, it is neither practical nor prudent to stop our activity for Isaac's sake.  Sometimes, my sweet mama answer is, "No".

Why do I tell Isaac "No"?  I tell Isaac "no" for the same reasons you express that sentiment to your child.  Isaac is a child and I am his mother.  I am tasked with the responsibility of teaching him how to behave.  Sometimes, the answer is just "No".

Isaac learns behaviorally.  To a large extent, we all do.  We have had to teach Isaac that our "no" stands.  I remember when Isaac and his sister were very young.  Sam and I had to get a new trash can.  Isaac got tired of being at Target and proceeded to throw a massive autism fit.  His sister decided that if Isaac got to cry, she could too.  We told the children, "No thank you.  All done fit."  We weren't mean...just absolute.  We did not yell.  We stated factually.  We then proceeded to discuss which trash can was the one for us while the children wailed.  Oh, the looks we got!   We ignored the onlookers and went about our business.  Eventually, the children realized there was no pay off to their behavior and grew quieter.  Had we scurried away to the car at that moment, Isaac's tantrum (and his sister's) would have been reinforced by a positive outcome.  Had we attempted punishment at that moment, Isaac's behavior (and his sister's) would have been reinforced as he would have caused a change in my behavior.  We addressed his current behavior with words spoken with a flat affect, "No thank you.  I do not like your fit"  and we went about our shopping. There was no pay off for the behavior.  He got nothing out of it and honestly throwing a fit of that magnitude is exhausting for any child.

People around us were uncomfortable.  I understand that.  I regret that.  I do not try to put Isaac in difficult situations as a way to ruin other people's experiences.  It is me that may have to deal with scratches and pinches.  It is my eardrum that is the closest.  I do not try to be obnoxious.  I don't go to the best restaurants with a screaming aggressive child.  Still, I cannot let Isaac's behavior dictate the lives of those in our family.  Isaac is a member of our family and we look to his needs.  He is a member and not the central component.  Isaac has three siblings and two parents.  Our needs must be accounted for too.

Parents are tasked to teach their children about life and how to proceed successfully through it.  We teach our children how to wait and how to respond when we are frustrated or denied what we want.  Isaac does have autism, but he is still a child and also needs to learn these truths.  Sometimes Isaac throws a tantrum.  I don't take it personally.  I don't stop what I'm doing.  We go on.  We manage the best we can.  That's really all we can do.

So what do you do if you hear Isaac's frustrations at Wal Mart?  You can look at me and pose a question with your eyes.  You can ask if I am ok without saying anything and without judging.  I will respond.  Usually, I am ok and don't need assistance.  He is fine...just not quiet.  We will be ok.  If you can offer direct assistance by helping to carry the groceries or open the door, that would be great.  You can realize that this is not the first tantrum that I have seen from Isaac and that I am an expert regarding my son.  Be assured.  Follow my lead.  I have this.  It will be ok.  I will remove him when I can, but I cannot rush my behavior or things have the potential to get much worse.  You can be understanding.  You can offer a smile or even a hug when things have deescalated.  You can say a prayer for Isaac and me.  You can move past your fear and respond in love.  You can love me.  You can love Isaac.

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