Hello Everyone, After a long gap I blog today inspired by a mother child interaction I witnessed in the market yesterday . The child was fussing as he wanted a new toy and the mother simply said to him, I will get it for you next time we come here and hurriedly moved on clasping his little fingers. The child almost being dragged, moved on crying for the toy.
I looked on and thought,
Isn’t this something that happens almost on a daily basis with all us parents? Who really has the time and the patience to sit there, forgetting all other commitments and explaining to the child why you cannot or would not like to buy the toy for him/her and when next are you going to fulfill this demand, or if you are going to fulfill it at all or not. Simply saying, I’ll get it the next time we come here seems enough. We very conveniently assume that the child will forget our empty promise the minute we walk out of the place and the matter would end right there.
Long after the child-mum duo had left the place, my brain kept pondering over the validity of a statement so loosely put to a child. What exactly is it conveying about life, The fact that when in a tight situation, it is best to shell out an empty promise which need not be honored ever and worse still, to know that it is ok to say things that don’t mean anything. This was a neurotypical child, or a so called regular child with a pretty regular mum, but what exactly does all this mean for a child on the Autism Spectrum.
The thought came as nothing less than scary to me. A child on the Autism Spectrum does not possess or let us say possesses to a limited extent, as compared to his neurotypical peers, the skill of manipulations and falsehood. It takes a great deal of effort for a child with autism to understand that not always can you say or should you say what is in your heart. Sometimes, it is best to simply reply by giving a smile to a question like, “why do you not come to our house with mom n dad?” rather than going ahead and saying, “I get bored so I don’t come”. So for a child on the spectrum, if a parent is saying, “I’ll get the toy next time, predictability is required. The child needs to know, when is that next time going to be. Specifics are expected such as “we will come back on Tuesday at 5:00pm and pick up this toy” for anything to make sense to him. When parents simply say, “we’ll take it next time”, an autistic child’s world is filled with confusion. He/she begins to lose faith in the parent as there is no explanation of the “next time”. Also It is much easier for him to understand and accept that the toy is not being taken because parents do not have money or because he first needs to finish his assignment and listen to mummy and not throw a tantrum etc. Again, specifics come in handy here. So if a parent is struggling with a tantrum issue, let’s say, for example, the kid runs out of a moving class at school, then maybe a good plan could be to say, “you have been doing very well this week, you did not run out of your Hindi class on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, now, if you stay calm and attend your Hindi class on Thursday and Friday also, on Saturday, we shall come to this shop by around evening time, maybe 5 nor 6 and take this toy”. Before you even realize, you have put an immensely strong behavior correction plan in action and the child is intrinsically motivated as from his previous experience he is aware that he will get the toy if he follows the set rule.
Similarly, when a parent is absolutely genuine with the child and says upfront that this month I cannot buy you this toy, we will come back on the 5th of Feb in the evening and buy this because mum/dad need to get their salary. The child will understand. The behaviours would evaporate in thin air because the child would have developed an underlying belief that my parent is going to pay attention to what I want rather than simply go ahead and say things to temporarily get rid of him. Further on, this very strategy can also help us in developing a sense of priority in the kid. When a child makes an unreasonable demand, but trusts the parent, asking a simple question such as why do you want this, why not spend your pocket money on that rather (give choices) and explain the benefit of making that choice. But eventually let the child decide. He will only make one wrong choice at best, two, because then you can go back and reiterate saying, well, you chose this, I told you earlier, but you made a choice, so this time, think wisely, do you really need this?
Out of my personal experience as a parent of a teenager on the Autism Spectrum, I have seen miraculous results with this technique. The child emerges more wise after a few interactions and makes better choices, needless to say, teenage issues and tantrums, mostly under control or almost absent.