Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What to do when you have a rigid kid

High-Functioning Autism can be a challenge in a lot of ways, but none so much as ridigity. The decision to support a cause or idea, beyond what would seem normal is familiar territory for parents of those with autism. Kids can be downright unreasonable. And of course, kids can be somewhat rigid. This is especially true of kids on the autism spectrum.

Some Examples of Autism Rigidity:

* interests or hobbies

* clothes they wear

* foods they eat or refuse to eat

* sensory sensitivities, such as noise, and textures

* unreasonable fears

Often when it occurs, a parent may feel blind-sided, since it feels as though it came out of nowhere. How perseveration gets started is one of Life's Great Mysteries. What causes a casual interest to become an all-encompassing quest? Why does a compliant child suddenly plant her feet and refuse to budge? Is it an internal dialogue? Is it media influence? Is it the cereal she had for breakfast? Whatever it is, parents are hard-pressed to stop the train once it starts. Sometimes, the rigidity comes from changes in the child's perceived schedule. This s very common in a child who otherwise isn't particular about their environment. A family member travelling; plans that change; a situation outside the realm of the child's "script." These are all opportunities for parents to practice their coping skills. Kids with autism simply don't bend well. It's true. They lock on to whatever is important to them at the time, and they will defend that position until either, you give in, or you deescalate the situation. In the case of clothes, a child may decide to only get dressed if one particular outfit is available. You have some choices then:

* You can find the outift, figure what the heck and live to fight another day

* You can cancel plans and let her sit around in her pajamas all day

* You can try to reason with her... and grow old in the process

* You can strongarm her and force her to bend to your will

Some days, it is easier to retreat. And in the grand scheme of things, it is often the best thing to do. No one wins a power struggle. If you force a child to sit down, she's still standing up in her head. It is easier to cooperate and find a solution than it is to force anyone to do anything. There will be time for fact it is necessary. But the middle of a conflict is not the time to try to teach. They aren't listening, anyway.

Flexibility is Key

The point here is that by being flexible, even after the fact, you can frequently manage to bring a difficult situation back under control. Often with autism, the plan you make is the one that you have to break. Or, rather, rethink. If the plan is stone-cold, rigid, it will break, and it's not pretty when it does. Be open to change. Model the behavior you want to see in the child. Show the child, who cannot, at that moment, disengage, HOW to back down, and how to find a solution that everyone can live with. Change your plan.

It may seem counter-intuitive to suggest that plans change. Kids with autism really like structure. They like to know that things are arranged the way they want (and often need) them to be. But, as the adult, it is much easier for your to be flexible than it is for them. The plans change because you get that the need is for a different plan. By tweaking the agenda, you can often avoid a greater meltdown. And isn't that what we all really want?

How about you? What have you found that works to "unlock" a stuck kid? Click here to share your wisdom!

T, who knows when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em

7 sent chocolate:

Jennifer Juniper said...

My 10 year old is not autistic, but he is difficult - he's a lazy perfectionist with little to no emotional control, so sometimes just asking "what happened?" Is enough to send him off the edge.
I've found that "jollying" him works best, like if he wants to wear something dirty telling him that it smells like he loaned it to godzilla and carrying that just far enough to make him laugh (how did that fit godzilla?? On his finger?? What does he need a finger-shirt for??). Once he's laughed I've won.

Stranded said...

I totally value this advice. My so is soooooo rigid - and oh man all the routines around daily activities. Stopping them is like ushering in a tidal wave of tantrums and stroppy mood for hours. Sometimes just being silly around his rigidity or distracting him with your own ridiculous behavior works.

Tina@ SendChocolateNow said...

Jennifer & Stranded: glad it struck a chord. I know how frustrating it can really be. And you are right, humor, if you can get them to buy into it. My daughter sometimes gets upset if she is having a hard time and I try to be silly. She is very literal, and she feels laughed at and that I am not taking her seriously.

Keep the ideas coming, you guys! Thanks for posting!


Kim Thompson said...

I negotiate and barter. Kinda of like: "Hey, I'll trade you four bites of this food you like, for two bites of the food I'd like you to try." Then we negotiate and come to agreement. Or I'll say, "Can we wear your nicer shorts for one hour while we are out and then you can wear your sweatpants the rest of the day?" Then my son will counter: How about 10 minutes?" And it goes on. Or I'll trade him some of my time or an activity for him to break/flex routine. Not like a bribe, but something free (time). The system isn't perfect and if I see a flash in the eyes (that spark of tantrum coming), I'll stop. I can live with him wearing a filthy shirt two days in a row or if he refuses to eat his veggies for a meal. When it comes to things more important (school attendance, etc.) I will push the envelope but over the years have learned when to reel it back in.

Good post.

BrendaJo said...

"If you force a child to sit down, she's still standing up in her head."
I. Love. It!
Our 8 year old does so much better when he has a schedule, and parents who are willing to be flexible. When he has a schedule *and* the ability to contribute to the plan, he does great!

HaveFunSinging said...

I so relate to this! We use LOTS of humor. And often if one parent starts getting frustrated the other one can step in with a cool head.

Tina@ SendChocolateNow said...

Kim: my son does this, but I admit, I get sooo tired of negotiating everything. Not everything is a hostage crisis, kwim?

BrendaJo: I confess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree on that one. I don't like to be told what to do, either.

HaveFunSinging:We still struggle with good parent/bad parent, here. I wish we could learn to work together more. Seems when one of us is frustrated, the other one reached the limit 10 minutes before.

Thanks for commenting, everyone!

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