As a parent of a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), you know that your child often responds in ways that fit the situation. At times, they transition easily and return to the task at hand.
Other times, and sometimes even in the same situation, they respond in ways that disrupt themselves and others.
In certain circumstances, their need for instant gratification can quickly ramp up to unusual behavior. It can be hard to know how to help your child when they reach conclusions from an entirely different point of view than you.
You will learn a lot about what is actually happening in their brain and body if you can suspend your assessment of your child’s actions as neither “good” nor “bad.”
I call this “detective mode.”
It is the non-judgmental observation of everything a child does. If you watch patiently, your child will show you what does and does not help them focus and learn.
Detective mode is a shift that parents must make from focusing on and trying to “fix” behavior, to a non-judgmental observer. In this way, the parent becomes the student and the child becomes the teacher.
In detective mode, you as a non-judgmental observer try to determine what contributes to your child’s calm behavior and what contributes to hyper-excitable outbreaks. Some events and circumstances can calm an individual and other circumstances can excite.
Some children are unable to reach a state of calmness and self-assurance by themselves. They need help (usually this comes from a parent) learning what is calming or exciting to them.
Detective mode seeks a deeper understanding of what causes a child’s actions. You are trying to determine what is actually happening in their brain and body to promote calmness or overwhelm.
The following exercise will help you as you observe your child’s behavior. You are specifically looking for what works to calm and focus your child and what revs them up.
Begin practicing by turning detective mode onto observing yourself. Next time you are in the middle of a large project and beginning to tire of it, but past the point of no return, notice your strategies to maintain your attention and interest in the task at hand.
What do you do to keep yourself keyed up, time efficient, and focused enough to prevent errors?
- Tune-in – allow 5-10 seconds
- Recognize – allow 5-10 seconds
- Refocus – allow 10-20 seconds
As adults at our jobs (parenting, educating, or otherwise), we adjust to changing circumstances and distractions all the time: We tune-in and listen to the sound in the hallway. We recognize that there is a stream of people crossing the window by our office, we refocus back on our reading activity.
As you become comfortable with using this exercise on yourself, using it to assess what is contributing to your child’s behavior will become more natural. Be patient with this process.
Remember that you are trying to understand someone who processes the world very differently than you.
Tune-in, recognize, refocus can be taught at any stage of a child’s life.
We want to teach children with ASD to tune-in to the potential events, distractions, or frustrations that upset them, recognize what is occurring and any feelings of frustration they have (before kicking anything), and then refocus their attention back to the task at hand.
The emphasis is on, “take a deep breath, and keep going.”
Ultimately, the shift to a non-judgmental observer (i.e., detective mode) will bring clarity to the source of the triggers in your child’s everyday life. I have no doubt that you already know what can upset your child. Detective mode seeks to uncover the cause of those triggers.
The knowledge this brings can not only help you bring calmness and coherence into potential trigger situations, but also can allow you to teach your child with ASD to do this for themselves.
Author of Unique Learner Solutions, Suzanne Cresswell is an occupational and physical therapist who has worked with unique learners for over three decades. Suzanne works to educate and provide proven solutions and strategies to those that parent, instruct and work with unique learners. By creating an understanding of unique learners and their learning behavior, she helps parents, teachers and the students themselves find the ability in learning disability. You can learn more about Suzanne and how she helps unique learners and their parents at Unique Learner Solutions.