By Dan Coulter
Ever been frustrated or embarrassed by something one of your kids said or did in public? The stares of strangers can feel like bullets.
If your child has an Autism Spectrum Disorder, you may sometimes feel like you’ve been machine-gunned.Wouldn’t it be great to have a way to deal with these situations that made you bulletproof?
I found something that works sort of like a protective shield –- and it’s basically a matter of perspective. Most of us were raised to care a lot about what other people think. That’s generally a good thing. It helps us be aware of social rules and interact politely with other people.
But when our kids do something embarrassing in public, feeling those painful stares can sometimes cause us to get our priorities mixed up. Maybe your son throws tantrums. Maybe your daughter makes inappropriate remarks in a loud voice. When my son, who has Asperger Syndrome, was little, he had a tendency to pick up and examine anything that caught his interest. This was a problem, particularly in stores. People react in a lot of ways to their kids “misbehaving” in public.
Too often, I’ve seen parents act embarrassed and say things to their kids that they might regret later. Most of us don’t completely lose it, but I know there were times when my son was little that I was more impatient with him in public than I should have been. Now for the perspective part. At the moment our kids do something in public that we wish they hadn’t, we’re socially conditioned to react by focusing on what other people think.
But how important is that compared to what our kids need at that moment? Do you have a picture of anyone in the mall crowd on your dresser at home? Have you held anyone in the supermarket line in your arms and rocked him to sleep? Is anyone in sight more important to you than your child? When you look at things from that perspective, it’s easier to dismiss what other people think and focus on your child.
First off, why did he do what he did? Many kids with ASDs are impulsive. Something in their brain triggers a behavior that’s hard for them to control. What if your son is not defying you? What if he’s responding to a stimulus that may take a lot of practice to overcome?
In my son’s case, it helped to remind him before we went out that he needed to ask and get permission before he picked things up to check them out. We’d remind him again just before we went into a store. Even so, it took quite a while for him to gain control of that behavior. Knowing that our kids are prone to certain behaviors helps us mentally prepare to stop what we’re doing and deal calmly with the situation.
There’s a saying in the retail business, “Customers are not an interruption of our work, they are the reason for it.” I think the same thing applies to parents and kids. Our job of parenting doesn’t stop when we’re busy and stressed and in a supermarket -- and kids aren’t reduced to “interruptions.”
If your daughter grabs a piece of candy from a shelf and screams when you try and take it from her, the best thing for her may be for you to stop shopping for a moment, kneel down and patiently but firmly explain why she has to put it back. At that moment, being bulletproof to what others might think of her outburst protects you both. We don’t flip a switch to teach our kids and then flip if off. We’re teaching them with every interaction we have.
If I think of every exchange with my son as one he may remember the rest of his life, will I act differently?
The twist to this is that stopping to deal compassionately and fairly with your child will probably make people who witness his behavior appreciate your parenting skills. And if they don’t understand, that’s their loss.
Do we care what other people think? Sure.
But never as much as we care about our kids.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is the producer of the video: ASPERGER SYNDROME FOR DADS: How To Become An Even Better Father To Your Child With AS. You can find more information and articles on his website: coultervideo.com
Copyright 2006 Dan Coulter (Reissued 2014) All Rights Reserved Used By Permission