“…he’s going to need to know how to get through those situations on his own—without becoming aggressive and without dissolving into a puddle on the floor—because there won’t always be someone else present who knows how to ease his way, who knows how to redirect, change gears, and smooth things over.
…But it does remind me that very often, the true solution lies within. It’s not about taking on the world on behalf of the boy, it’s about taking on the boy and teaching him to find his own way in the world.”
I’m sure Kristen over at From Here to There and Back was thinking of a slightly different context when she wrote this yesterday. Still, it’s been ringing in my head all day long.
Today we had an eye-opening session with Nik’s behavioral psychologist, Dr. S. She’s been invaluable to us as we’ve dealt with various feeding-related issues — Nik’s eating, he’s not eating, he’s eating again, he’s not eating, it’s sensory, it’s behavioral, no it’s sensory…you get the idea. In addition, as we are gearing up for the summer session at school and Nik’s IEP (which won’t happen until the district’s autism program evaluation is completed – hopefully by mid-June), we are very aware of some new behaviors that Nik is exhibiting which cause some trouble both at home and school. Specifically, tantrums when he encounters unmet expectations (whether a toy malfunctions or he expects to go in Mom’s car and we go in Dad’s, etc.), difficulty with transitions of all kinds (nothing surprising there, eh?), and the physical manifestations of those things.
We went to see Dr. S. to get some guidance on these things so we could have a greater measure of consistency between home and school; thus far, school seems to be waiting to follow our lead about what to do and how to handle certain situations. It turned out to be a much richer appointment than that. We came home with a feeling of tremendous support and partnership in helping us work with the school on a number of fronts. Such a wonderful — and RARE— feeling! We are working on some specific plans for a more focused feeding program at school, some specific plans for home around behaviors, and looking at how best to frame our arguments for a one-on-one paraprofessional for Nik beginning as soon as possible (but not later than the start of the school year in September).
Even so, it was a bit surprising when Dr. S. began to talk to us about her thoughts and observations of how we interact with Nik during his tantrums (which she got to witness first-hand today). The bottom line is that she told us we need to be much firmer with him and, unless he is in danger of hurting himself, let him wear himself out with the tantrum and start putting him in a safe time-out place. (That’s going to take some creativity!) I think we’ve become so tuned in to Nik’s nuances that we (I especially) have gotten adept at figuring out how to diffuse the situation before it escalates. However, I am thinking now that perhaps that’s not always in Nik’s best interest. In doing the things we do, which are loving and supportive no doubt, we may be reinforcing not only the behavior itself but sending a message that expressing his feelings of frustration (outrage?) is not as important as “getting a hold of himself” in order to accomplish…well, whatever it is in the moment. Sometimes that is correct. Often, though, it’s not the message we want to send and may, in fact, be disrespectful in some ways (my thoughts, not Dr. S’).
But what’s been rattling around in my head since we came home tonight is the larger issue of discipline for kids with special needs. Not just autism and any other conditions which may have a stronger behavioral manifestation, but also things like cerebral palsy, leukemia, cancer, Fragile-X, Downs Syndrome, etc. I find myself wondering tonight if, because of Nik’s multiplicity of overlapping, sometimes, intertwining diagnoses and conditions, I don’t discipline him enough (I don’t mean punishment!). Do I make unnecessary allowances for his physical limitations, or for his inability to express himself? Do I make assumptions about what he is or is not trying to express through his behavior? Do I “baby” him too much in my attempts to keep that peaceful, easygoing spirit of his ever present? Do I do these things consciously or unconsciously? Out of guilt? Out of fear?
I don’t have any answers yet — just lots of questions to ruminate upon over the coming days. Opportunities for me to take a step back and look at my parenting style. Not so much to change it in any global sense but to decipher the roots of my reluctance to (my inability to?) see my son as capable of handling the discipline of a typical childhood.
How do you discipline your children with special needs? Do you treat them differently than any of your other children? If so, why? If not, was it always that way? What prompted the change? What have you done with your exceptional child/ren that has worked? What works/ed for different age ranges?
I think there’s a kernel of a great parenting book in there somewhere…just give me credit for the idea, ok? I’m too busy learning how to parent my son right now…