Getting Unstuck When You’re Parenting a Youngster With Autism
Everyday life can be a challenge for parents. With children and school and pets and work – then there is another child with exceptions – and it’s easy to see that everyday life involves a lot of juggling. Sometimes we can do anything, but sometimes not so much. Instead of being productive, we turn our wheels. This is the time when we really need help to break up.
It’s something that happens to everyone when we’re stuck, says Board Certified Behavior Analyst Ashley Musial, M.Ed., owner of ChildFirst Behavior Therapy, an ABA therapy provider in Arlington Heights for children with autism. But with an adjustment in our perspective and strong problem-solving skills, we can even prevent ourselves from getting stuck.
“I’ve been putting that into words lately and I see it in practice,” says Musial. She is the mother of six sons, one of whom has ASD, and she has an attitude that helps strengthen the families she supports in ChildFirst Behavioral Therapy. “The most important thing in solving problems and where we get stuck as people is when we make a lot of statements but don’t ask questions. We do better if we ask questions and question what we think we know, especially what we have to do. “
Musial provides a simple example of something we’ve all tried: tackle a list of five things we think we need to do on a given day – when we know we only have the time and resources to do four tasks.
“We start to have negative thoughts about getting the job done and how we are never able to meet deadlines and when we can’t get the job done people get angry. It just circles. It can be crippling and prevent you from engaging in adaptive behavior that will help you solve the problem, ”explains Musial.
Moving from negative statements to questions can help you break away. You might be asking if there really are five things you have to do today, or if one of those deadlines is set. Perhaps you will ask if the mountains are agile, and eventually you will ask if they are mountains at all.
When you break away from the assumption that no one can help you, you may wonder who else can do these things.
“Maybe I can delegate some of this. Maybe I can push myself back, ”offers Musial. “One very strong behavior when you feel overwhelmed and stuck is to turn a statement into a question.”
A day in the life
Parents of an autistic child can feel extraordinary pressure to get everything done, and the potential to get stuck and make negative statements is real, says Musial. “This could affect any behavior or circumstance,” she says.
Let’s say you came home from work and (of course) you are tired. Your child comes off the bus crying, but you can’t get to the bottom of what is happening. You know you need to bathe your child because at least three days have passed since the last bath. Maybe he has paint on his arm. But taking a bath is a process, and your child doesn’t love water.
“You start painting a picture of your own fatigue and your child is upset and reluctant to have their hair washed. “In the meantime, you know that if you don’t get the chicken in the oven, it won’t cook and your child will get grumpy if it doesn’t eat. Now there is a standstill with bath, chicken and a favorite show. “
Negative self-talk includes what you’ve told yourself is truths: you can’t bathe your child, you can’t get the chicken in the oven, you can’t eat or serve undercooked chicken, and you can’t be a bad father. “That’s a lot of statements,” says Musial.
Flip the script
Instead, you can start asking questions. Does your child have to eat at a specific time? Does the chicken have to cook for 40 minutes? Does your child have to take a bath lest their teachers think you are a bad mother? After your favorite show, could you take a dip and then have dinner? Would wiping with damp paper towels before your favorite TV show be just as good?
“There is a solution for most things, but sometimes you just have to be creative,” says Musial.
And although Musial says she would never suggest that parents get on the internet otherwise, she sees the value of googling rather than reinventing the wheel.
“Some of the basics, like managing bath time around dinner, keeping a child busy on a plane, and many other challenges have already been solved by other people. Solving a repertoire of solutions, checking what others are doing, is a solution that you could try. “
Building problem-solving skills takes time and energy and a new way of thinking.
Learn more about ChildFirst Behavior Therapy at childfirstbehaviortherapy.com.