It is past time to start dinner and I realize that lunch has yet to be cleaned up. I decide to enlist some help so that I can kill two birds with one stone. “Paul, I need you to do dishes now.” Paul looks from the computer and grunts. Five minutes later “Paul, I need you to clean the kitchen NOW.” Paul looks up “You said I had to do dishes last time, not clean the kitchen!” Me “Paul they are the same thing.” “They are not the SAME thing, Mom” Paul is getting agitated. I changed my tactics ”Paul, you’re right that was not very specific. Next time I will say ‘ Clean the kitchen’. Since I told you to do dishes first we’ll stick with that this time.” Paul drags his feet into the kitchen and starts unloading the dishwasher. I sigh inwardly and am glad that we did not degrade into a meltdown this time. Five minutes later Paul has unloaded three dishes and is now petting the cat. “Paul, put the cat down, wash your hands and DO the dishes” I’m trying very hard not to sound frustrated but I am frustrated. I just want the dishes done. Paul starts to cry. My husband then decides it is time to switch pitchers, maybe he can get through where I can’t. “Paul stop crying, dishes are a job not something to get emotional about. Now listen to your mother and do the dishes.” Paul begins shuffling his feet and slowly unloading the dishwasher. I’ve seen snails move at a faster pace, seriously;) Hubby tries to give him instruction on how to make this job faster and easier. "If you stack the bowls you can bring them all to the cabinet at once rather than one at a time. Organizing your work space will help you work more efficiently. Paul completely freezes up, will not move and is crying hysterically. We have now past the point of no return. We are now in an autistic meltdown, no dishes will be done by Paul tonight. The barest amount of pressure applied and we have lost an opportunity of instruction and growing. The character issues of disobedience and responsibility can no longer be addressed at this point because during a meltdown my boys are completely shut down and can not hear a thing I say. First priority now becomes managing the melt down.
As a mom of spectrum kids, one of my main struggles is determining the line where character training ends and autism begins. This sounds like it should be quite easy, right? If the kids is rocking in the corner and screaming, it is an autistic meltdown. If he is giving you lip about doing dishes, it is a character issue that needs addressing. Oh, if only it were that simple! the scenario above is something that happened at my house just two days ago. Is there a degree of manipulation involved? Absolutely! Are there some serious character issues that need addressing? Of course! Can I just push through the tantrum and move forward like I would with my non autistic child? No, I can’t because it doesn’t matter HOW we got to the meltdown once we are in one. All that matters once we have crossed that line is de-escalating and protecting my child and those around them.
Let me be clear, Paul does his chores without this kind of response most of the time. However, three things went wrong in the above scenario. Three things that are Paul’s known triggers and had I been more focused on Paul and less on getting the dishes done I would have realized immediately that this was not going to end well. Trigger 1) Paul was hungry. Paul is WAY more likely to melt down over nothing if he is hungry. Keeping my kids blood sugar balanced is a very important part of our daily routine in management of our spectrum kids. Trigger 2) I changed my directions to him mid assignment. I KNOW better than this. Paul NEEDS the specifics and only hears what you say. He does not read between the lines at all. This was guaranteed to start working him up. Trigger 3) Hubby gave Paul NEW information mid -assignment. Paul needs time to process information. If you are going to give him new information you have to do it at a time he is expecting it and is not in the middle of something. Having these three triggers combined is explosive every, single time!
The true key to knowing where that faint line exists is knowing your child and being observant of what is going on around them. As the above story illustrates, I am not always perfect at this. There are times I’m so focused on what I need to do that I lose focus of the important things around me.
Friends, this week I am going to endeavour to spend more time focusing on the important things rather than just the necessary things. The necessary things, such as doing the dishes, do need to be done and are, well, necessary; but the important things, like focusing on my children and their states of being are, not to be redundant, they are important. If I focus my time and attention on these things, I will spend less time and energy fighting to get the necessary things done and my son will not end up standing at the kitchen sink in a complete meltdown.
I pray each of you has a fabulous next week. I love and appreciate each of you.-Kristine
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