The behaviour trick I learnt from children with autism that works for my own child

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The summer holidays are long and this year they’ve been especially hot. During the holidays, many parents spend more time than usual with their children. This is wonderful as they get to make precious memories together, but it also comes with challenges – one of which is the increased likeliness of getting on each other’s nerves.

Great holiday activities are often tiring: they require extra effort in terms of organisation and finding places, and bedtimes are often missed. When you are worn out from having fun but still have a trip around a supermarket to do, it is easy for tempers to fray. I popped into my local supermarket yesterday and this kind of wrung-out parenting was much in evidence.

These are not bad parents, these are just tired, hot parents who need a moment – just a moment – to themselves but do not anticipate getting one for another five weeks. The best example was a father marching ahead of his son towards the trolleys. His son, following behind, was whistling the same two bars of a song on repeat. As the father’s hand reached the trolley, he turned to his son and hissed loudly at him “Stop that!” and understandably so.

The instructions we give in moments like that are almost always in the negative, they are to stop, to not, to desist, to don’t, others are more abstract such as: “I’ve had enough!” and “That’s it!” Swapping negative instructions for positive ones, however, can be transformative.

When I was first working as a teacher in a special school, a colleague advised me not to shout “Don’t kick” at a child with autism on the far side of the playground. Instead, I should shout what I did want them to do and lead with their name: “Michael, feet on the floor!” It worked a treat.

Autism, and other neurodiverse conditions, can affect a child’s language processing, shuffling the words. Meaning in a phrase such as “Please stop kicking the bin” could get processed as “Please kicking the bin, stop” and sound like an instruction to kick the bin rather than one to stop kicking it.

For all children, negative or abstract instructions are harder to follow than positive ones. So for the man with the trolley, my suggestion would be to ask his son if he remembered what they needed to buy or to ask him if he knew how to sing a particular song – as a whole song would have certainly been preferable to hearing that same two bars of whistling again!

For my son currently, a game of ‘Either/Or’ where he chooses, for example, whether he would prefer to have hair made of spaghetti or fingers made of sausages is a ready solution. It is a simple trick and works well with these sorts of petty annoyances.

Happy holidays everyone, the school run will be upon us before we know it!

About the author

Joanna Grace is an international Sensory Engagement and Inclusion Specialist, Trainer, Author, TEDx speaker and Founder of The Sensory Projects.

Joanna’s books Sensory Stories for children and teens and Sensory-being for Sensory Beings sell globally. She has a further five books due for publication within the next two years, including four children’s books. 

Joanna is a big fan of social media and is always happy to connect with people via FacebookTwitter and Linkedin.

Early bird tickets for Joanna’s 2019 sensory tour are available to buy now.  

 

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