By Christine Marchant
In the earlier post I explained who I was and shared with you the first 5 things that I hear people say about the children and adults I work with. I explained why I don’t respond to the diagnosis but I respond to the person. Respect, kindness, and compassion—those are the ways I respond to the children and people I work with.
That should always be the go to response—and then you respond to the diagnosis.
Here are another five things I hear all the time. I have been taken to the side and given a “dressing down” for the way I respond. That’s okay—I have my formulas and I know they work—and when they do, I have success. I’m not going to tell you how to do your job. As a child development facilitator (CDF) you bring your own talent and awesome skills to the job. How you do your thing is just as right as the way I do my thing.
I’ll share with you another five things that I hear all the time. Then I’ll share with you why I disagree with it and give an example of how I respond. With that said, I only gave one example of how I respond—there’s a different way for each child and each situation. The way I responded to #4, was only one child. The other dozen of children had a different way. Hopefully over time, I will get a chance to share the different ways to respond to each situation and each child.
- “Always talk calmly and explain everything in short simple words.”
- “If little Bobby gets upset, he’s having a temper tantrum because he’s not getting what he wants. He doesn’t understand why he needs to comply.”
- “Give little Bobby an iPad or iPhone. He can’t understand real life and can’t communicate without the iPad or iPhone.”
- “Let little Bobby eat only what he wants. If he resists or cries, immediately give him whatever he wants.”
- “Be very careful about how you talk to and respond to little Bobby. Autistic people don’t like to be touched or hugged!!!!”
“Always talk calmly and explain everything in short simple words.”
Yes. Use short simple words and talk in a calm voice. BUT!! Not ALL the time!! Use your normal voice and tone. Use hand gestures and talk respectful and kindly. Here is an example. “Little-Bobby-you-must-always-put-your-boots-on-because-if-you-don’t-you-will-get-cold-feet-outside-because-it’s-winter-in-winter-it’s-snowy-…… bla bla bla…” Little Bobby is now ignoring you or is beating on your head with his boots!! I avoid this. I say Bobby sit. Boots on. Line up. Love you. Little Bobby has his boots on and is lined up with his peers and I’m smiling and giving him thumbs up.
“If little Bobby gets upset, he’s having a temper tantrum because he’s not getting what he wants. He doesn’t understand why he needs to comply.”
Little Bobby is not upset because he isn’t getting what he wants. He’s upset because he’s stressing out and has no other way to express himself. He doesn’t know what he’s feeling because the adults haven’t given him the skills to understand the situation and how to respond appropriately. Instead, look at what he is feeling. Why is he feeling like that? I respond by not responding. I stop and try to figure out what is the real issue. Here is an example. The teacher says “Okay, snow pants-jacket-hat-mittens—then your boots. Let’s go! Let’s go!” Little Bobby is laying on the floor SCREAMING. The teacher says, “Stop screaming and put your snow pants on first.” He screams louder. She says, “I don’t care if you don’t want to wear your snow pants, you’re wearing them or you don’t go outside to play.” Little Bobby says, “I’m not wearing them!” And sits in the classroom and watches his peers playing in the snow. She made many mistakes, but I won’t share it here. She said “He always has a temper tantrum when he doesn’t get his way.” I watched this go down—I hold little Bobby until he stops crying. When he’s calmed down to the big sobs, I asked him “What was the problem?” He responds, “Those aren’t my snow pants—they belong to my brother!!” Simple. I acknowledge it. I ask him how he thinks he can solve the problem and we work out a solution. In 10 minutes, he’s dressed in his snow clothes and is outside playing with his peers.
“Give little Bobby an iPad or iPhone. He can’t understand real life and can’t communicate without the iPad or iPhone.”
Constantly handing little Bobby an iPad or iPhone just reinforces his belief that he can’t handle life without it. Little Bobby hasn’t been given the skills to communicate or express himself without the iPad or iPhone. He has always responded to the electronics because the electronics always respond predictably and consistently. There is no reason for him to learn new ways to respond or interact with his environment. I do not like to use any electronics with any child. I establish this rule right at the beginning of my interaction with the children. I take the time to respond to the child and understand him. I start slowly by not getting into little Bobby’s space. I interact very minimally and not directly. I do a lot of side looks and playing beside little Bobby but not insisting little Bobby respond to me. Once he has figured out that I’m way more desirable than the iPad or iPhone, he starts to open up and interact with his environment and leaves the electronics alone. Adults think they need to use the electronics to “reach the child at the child’s level” when it’s actually the complete opposite. Put the electronics away—pull out your inner child and play. Then you are truly at the child’s level.
“Let little Bobby eat only what he wants. If he resists or cries, immediately give him whatever he wants.”
Feeding little Bobby can be a real challenge if you believe this. This is in the same category as the myth of never changing their routine or environment. Little Bobby is like this because the adults have given him the mistaken impression that he can’t handle changes. When we rush around trying to avoid allowing the child to feel any emotions except happy, we are unintentionally reinforcing his belief that he can’t handle changes. Just relax—treat it like everything else. Ask the child what foods they don’t like. Why don’t they like it? Then expose it to them in small doses while playing games or watching a movie. This is when I allow electronics. I put on their favourite 3 minute video and then we eat the undesirable pieces of food. The movie is NOT the reward!! It’s the distraction! Tell them to pay attention to the movie and eat the pieces of food. When the video is finished, ask them “What did you eat?” It’s fascinating. They are surprised. When they are desensitized to the foods, I decrease the video length each time until they don’t even look at the electronics. It’s using the electronics as a tool not a reward. They get stuck in the loop of only eating certain foods and having a meltdown if they are expected to eat undesirable foods because the adults are so concerned that the child can’t handle it.
“Be very careful about how you talk to and respond to little Bobby. Autistic people don’t like to be touched or hugged!!!!”
This is such a silly thing to say. I see a lot of people and children that “don’t like to be touched” so I don’t touch them. By respecting this but allowing them to approach you, and allowing them to lean against you or touch your body with those gentle feather touches, you are respecting them. When you respect them, they want you to touch them or hold them or pick them up. I allow all my children and people to touch me when they are ready. I look distant and act like I am not warm and fuzzy. But I give a lot of winks, small smiles, finger waves etc. So, follow their lead and stop trying to touch and hug children. They will hug you when they are ready.
These are only the first 10 things that I hear so often. I don’t like being aggressive or forceful when I first meet my clients. I don’t see the child as my only client. I see the whole class—the teachers and the assistants and all of the children are my clients. I see the whole family as my client. I like to take the gentle approach and use modeling as my way of getting everyone involved and on the plan towards success. When you hear some information about certain diagnosis and you are told to respond a certain way, stop and say no. Look, listen, feel, and respond to each person as a person first and then the diagnosis. It doesn’t matter what education or experience you have. The only thing that really matters is that you realize that by the time you are in that house or classroom, the entire environment is in crisis mode. Walk gentle, talk softly, and listen to the adults and the children. In another post I’ll share the formula I created years ago, and I follow it each time I start a new case.