Saturday, January 24, 2009
Reset the Button
After trying several different ways to inspire some cooperation in a child who resisted playing the first few games I brought out, I finally hit upon a game that he loved. He and dad and I then played happily and productively for twenty minutes and the next game went well too. The child’s father, apparently having had a pretty hard day with his son earlier, commented that as a father he just had to hit the reset button more often.
It is relatively easy for me to hit the reset button that this dad was talking about, but I remember when it was not—back when I had only worked with a few children with autism. A parent is in a totally different situation than I am. For one thing, most the time the parent has only worked with one child who has autism--their own. There several reasons why it is easier for me to hit reset emotionally and try something new than it is for a parent. 1) I know a lot of games and strategies and figure that sooner or later something will work 2) I can almost always recall that I was ultimately successful with a child who was equally or more challenging than the one that I am with 3) I don’t take it personally when a child is uncooperative because children with autism all have difficulty with social interaction so I know it is about the autism 4) I only have each child for one hour and then the child leaves so I always see an end point no matter how hard a session gets. None of these things is true for the parent of a child with autism and parents feel the strain. None-the-less, to be successful parenting a child with ASD, a parent needs to know how to hit the reset button.
I mention the factors that make it easier for me, in part because parents can use these factors and others and make it easier on themselves when they need to hit the reset button. They can learn more games and strategies--giving themselves a bigger tool box and confidence. Parents can read about other kids with autism and know that others are equally challenging (or more challenging). They can increase their own patience by reading success stories. That is why I include so many stories on this blog so that parents see a success when it happens and anticipate success when it takes a long time. Parents can decide emphatically not to take their child's behavior personally and reset the button with that thought. Parents can set reasonable time limits for play and activities. Play for a half-an-hour or one hour and then stop and come back to it later after your reset button is naturally reset.
This idea of learning how to hit the reset button extends to children as well. I played with a little boy yesterday who was drumming with me. (Drumming game is demonstrated on this page.) I was following his lead and copying everything that he did. He enjoyed this so much that he sometimes fell over on the floor laughing and at one point, he took the drum sticks and starting hitting me with them! When I redirected him, he tried to follow my lead for a bit, drumming in the same way that I was, but suddenly, he jumped up and went to my window blinds and started rattling them, looking at me with a clear expectation that I would scold and stop him. He was overly excited but not angry or mischievous as he gazed at me expectantly. He did not know how to calm himself down so he went to rattle the blinds, which is a behavior I have seen many children do in order to communicate some need for adult intervention. In this case, he seemed to want me to reset his emotional state button. The excitement he felt was too extreme and did not feel good. I did not react to the blinds behavior since I didn't want it to become the way this little guy communicates with me but I distracted him and helped him move into a more calming activity. With my new and helpful phrase, I told myself we need to find some appropriate reset the button strategies for this little guy.