B is for Behaviour

Bad behaviour is something I don’t abide by, especially coming from my children. What constitutes bad behaviour in my books? Well, when the children ignore me when I’m talking, tops the list. When my children walk away in the middle of me telling them what I’d like them to do, is another, albeit this doesn’t happen often.

I don’t tolerate rudeness either. I consider my children raising their voices at me as rudeness. I also feel that eye-rolling and sullenness when they’re being told off as showing rudeness. And the worst thing my kid can do is to hit me. This has happened when one of them was little.

But what if they weren’t doing all my pet behavioural peeves on purpose? What if these behaviours were a response to something else, like triggers in the environment, for example, and they were merely instinctive patterns of behaviour?

In the book, Open lashes out at a classmate. He’s had enough and there wasn’t enough time for him to register his emotions and his automatic response—the fight response—kicked in.

Children don’t come with instruction manuals, unfortunately. There is no STOP button to press when they’re pushing all your buttons. As you respond to their challenging behaviours either negatively or positively, children also respond in their individual ways when their buttons get pushed. Open’s buttons got pushed that day when he hit out.

The many parenting guidebooks out there are good for tried and tested ways of managing bad behaviour from your children. I’ve read a few and to date, I haven’t one that I could recommend any parents. Don’t get me wrong, all the books written are written with good intentions. But…

…Our children are all different. They are all individuals and one method that worked for your elder kid may not work for the second and/or subsequent children. I know this because my elder child is different from my second. Thank goodness I only have two when the second manifests one of the bad behaviour patterns that I abhor. She throws a face at me when she’s been told off. Yes… I understand: who likes to be told off, right? To date, I still find this challenging behaviour hard to ignore. I try my best but I must admit that I’m almost always close to hitting that elusive STOP switch that could possibly “beam me up” somewhere. There are times, I behave rather badly too. I throw a little fit or tantrum because I got reactive rather than proactive.

At the same time, I’m thankful that my kids are neurotypical children. They come round soon enough and will apologise for their perceived bad behaviour. Then, mummy-guilt sets in and I too come round to how I’ve perceived their behaviour as bad. I ask for clarification, I explain why I was ticked off and they tell me why they threw a face at me…. slowly but surely, we patch things up and come to a place of understanding.

But what if you’re someone parenting an individual on the autism spectrum? What do you do? My heart goes out to these brave and courageous folks who have to deal with challenging behaviours constantly.

I’ve been researching challenging behaviours lately because my second daughter has entered her tweenie years and is starting to get quite challenging.

From time to time, all children can and do behave in ways that parents and carers find challenging to deal with. But kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are more likely to manifest challenging behaviours. But it is good to know that children and teenagers on the autism spectrum do not purposely:

  • ignore or refuse to listen
  • throw tantrums
  • behave in a socially inappropriate manner
  • engage in repetitive self-stimulating behaviours or
  • hurt themselves and others for no reason.

There are reasons for the behaviours they manifest. Knowing what these reasons are will help you to manage them. Finding out strategies will help you help your child cope with his or her emotions.

If you’re parenting an autistic child, don’t despair. There are many support groups in your communities that can offer assistance and advice. Additionally, besides being a great resource, support groups are spaces where you can reach out to even if you only want to moan about a bad day. Support groups are also great for asking questions to other parents who may have had similar experiences to yours—“My child had a meltdown in the supermarket, what do I do to prevent this?”, “My child finds it hard to go to sleep at night, what can I do?” and/or “My daughter can’t stop biting her hand, help, anyone?”

Children often behave “badly” [notice I’ve placed this adverb in inverted commas] for many reasons that they cannot explain to you verbally. Understanding what triggers these behaviours is very useful in managing or even pre-empting such behaviours. They don’t mean to be bad, they are just trying to tell you something.

I know that my elder child gets very grumpy, edgy and anxious when her sugar levels are low. This is usually when she’s hungry and food is late being served. Hence, mealtimes are consistent in our home—we eat at the same time every day. If we were out and about, I made sure to carry healthy snacks with me, so that she gets replenished without spoiling her appetite for the big meal that’s coming soon.

My other kid gets anxious about social activities and when she’s around friends, and will often pull a face when I’m talking to her. I’ve come to understand why after many conversations and we have come up with a sign between us as a “warning” signal for her to stop or to tell her I’ve had enough.

One strategy I read about to help autistic children who find it difficult to communicate verbally is signs or messages written out that they can use to tell you when they’ve had enough. This is what Victoria of Starlight and Stories have to say:

“MAKE SOME TIME OUT CARDS

Often when students start to become upset they find it difficult to put their feelings into words. They can find it difficult to approach the teacher appropriately and worry that their friends will laugh at them. Their fight or flight response therefore kicks in, and you are left wondering why a child has just run out of your classroom and whether they are going to be safe.

A simple piece of paper saying ‘I need to leave the room now please’ printed or handwritten and then laminated can make all of the difference. Agree on the rules for time outs, where the student needs to go when they leave your room and how long they can be gone before needing to catch up on work (I usually say ten minutes, as I want students to have a chance to be able to calm down properly). Then when they become upset they simply need to hand over the card – no words are needed.” (source)

Since Victoria is an Autism Specialist Teacher and mother to an autistic child, this strategy pertains to classrooms. However, I find that this way of communication between parents and children could work too.

However, there will be times when it’s all too late and your child has had enough but haven’t had enough time to register what’s bothering him or her and throws a gigantic wobbly that you can’t stop. I’ve had moments like these too and my kids are not autistic.

When this happens, take a deep breath and let your child get on with it. Ignore the stares from passersby and let your child get on with it. I’ve had moments when I’ve had to hold on to my second daughter when she has had a meltdown. Hugging her tight helped her calm down. Of course, this is a strategy that worked for me. Do what works for you because you know your child best.

Here’s to every parent who is trying their very best—kudos to you.

A is for APHID

I know aphids to be these green little insects that fly around garden plants, attach themselves on the stalks and branches, and then suck the sap out of them. In our London house, we have a garden and that’s where I came across these plant lice. They are common garden pests with around 4,000 species found around the world.

Here’s what I read on the internet regarding aphids:

“Aphids are small (1/8 inch long), soft bodied, pear-shaped insects that may be green, yellow, brown, red or black in color depending on species and food source. Generally adults are wingless, but some can grow wings, especially if populations are high. They have two whip-like antennae at the tip of the head and a pair of tube-like structures, called cornicles, projecting backward out of their hind end.” (Source)

I hate aphids for they can destroy your plants by sucking the sap out of them; the English word ‘sapping’ derives from the connection we have made with sap being the life force of plants and that once drained, that life force is diminished. My experience in dealing with aphids have made me detest them. But I love how in the English language, acronyms spell out certain words, some are meaningful words while others can be read easily. For the latter, I can think of UNESCO – United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. For the former, I can think of Scuba – Self-contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. Actually, I only just discovered Scuba is an acronym.  I’m a scuba-diver, but I’ve used the word so often without realising that it’s an acronym that has become a noun and a verb. It’s amazing, there are so many things we take for granted in life. But I’m glad to be learning everyday.

Did you know that an aphid is also someone who is in high denial? Well, I didn’t, until I did the research. An APHID in autism glossary means A Parent Highly In Denial. Don’t you just love acronyms?

Denial is quite common amongst parents when their child/ren has/have been diagnosed autistic. It’s a wave of shock hitting you hard. On the one hand, this is totally understandable, on the other it can be detrimental for the child/ren in terms of bonding and acceptance. Ultimately, denial will sap the child/ren from being the great person that they can be, no matter where on the spectrum they’re on.

In Open – A Boy’s Wayang Adventure, one parent is APHID.

“Oh Ben,” Mama sighs. “I don’t know, Sky. He’s not getting better and I don’t know what to say to him.” (Open: pp. 30-31)

Often, APHID comes to terms with their child/ren’s diagnosis but still thinks that there is a cure out there. It is very important to note that autism has no cure. There is no medication that can make an autistic person better. Associating autism with a cure projects the myth that autism is a disease. Autism is a neurological condition and autistics are as they are. As James Sinclair of Autistic and Unapologetic explains:

“Is there a cure for autism?

Possibly the most frustrating/annoying/upsetting part of having autism is the rate at which this question appears around the internet. Though this is something which I plan to discuss with passion later on, right now I am simply going to say ‘no’.” (source)

APHID mourns the loss their child upon diagnosis. In the stages of grieving, denial is the first stage that people usually go through in mourning. But there is grace in denial because this is the beginning towards acceptance. (source)

As Jim Sinclair (not to be confused with James Sinclair), an autism rights activist who started the Autism Network International, said in his essay, ‘Don’t Mourn for Us’:

“You didn’t lose a child to autism. You lost a child because the child you waited for never came into existence. That isn’t the fault of the autistic child who does exist, and it shouldn’t be our burden. We need and deserve families who can see us and value us for ourselves, not families whose vision of us is obscured by the ghosts of children who never lived. Grieve if you must, for your own lost dreams. But don’t mourn for us. We are alive. We are real.”—Jim Sinclair, “Don’t Mourn for Us,” Our Voice, Vol. 1, No. 3, 1993.

I hope that reading this post will have clarified certain things for you. Let’s celebrate autism rather than denigrate it. Let’s love our children for who they really are. Let’s work towards more #acceptance and #tolerance in our communities and societies. To end this story, I’d like to share another on how a particular APHID connected with her autistic son through her own self-discovery.

A Little Announcement. 

It’s 18 days to the book launch; I’m counting down to March 10. I’m looking forward to seeing friends and readers there. Come take part in the dialogue between Raymond Tan of Brainchild Pictures and me on representation, inclusivity and the importance of preserving our cultural heritage. [yes!! the book is an adaptation of The Wayang Kids.]

Purchase your copy of the book and take a photo with it and [hashtag] #OpenEveryChildMatter. Thanks for reading, always!

 

 

Image: Public domain. The life stages of the green apple aphid (Aphis pomi). Drawing by Robert Evans Snodgrass, 1930.