‘Whatever works’ is my parenting philosophy. In fact I’d say it’s largely my philosophy to life… now!
Parenting Little Miss H has taught me that.
I’m adaptable, can fly by the seat of my pants and I make it up as I go along!
I’m instinctive and I am intuitive.
I’m dynamic and a do-er. I’m more action than talk and I am not a ‘worrier’. That is not to say I don’t care, I just don’t waste my precious little energy on ‘worrying’. I act on what needs action and deal with facts rather than what-ifs.
Again that is not to say I don’t address future possible scenarios. Of course I do, I just don’t dwell on them.
I try to listen to my inner voice.
Drowning out all the external ‘noise’ can be jolly hard. Especially in this modern age of parenting where there is a book for everything, an expert on everything and too many people who feel entitled to an opinion about everything and everyone else’s lives. I feel listening to our instinct is being culturally drilled out of us, parenting is prescriptive now and in Scotland at least, if the current government had its way, it would be state led too.
On the whole though I succeed on hearing my inner voice even if there is the odd occasion when I don’t act on it.
These traits have led me to be quite creative in my approach to parenting. I’ve had to be. Autism has made me react rather than prescribe.
Don’t get me wrong I am very traditional in many ways and please don’t mistake creative for airy fairy and wishy washy. Little Miss H needs firm boundaries and assurances, there is no room for vagary in my parenting of her.
Little Miss H says I’m strict, I think her friends may think I am too. I have high expectations of myself and of my girls. Realistic but high. After all, as the saying goes, if you aim for the moon and miss, you are still amongst the stars.
I stretch them and I support them stepping out of their comfort zones. We have a hard work ethic. We have needed it with all the therapy we have had to incorporate into our lives. We are results driven and ambitious. That, I believe is why Tiny Miss H can walk despite her prognosis.
Mr H would say to me “you’re Scottish, you’re feisty”, I say that’s no bad thing!
Parenting Little Miss H has taught me that traditional parenting or what’s called ‘parenting as normal’ (rewards/sanctions) is often not suitable for children on the autistic spectrum. Their impaired social imagination means that they can’t envisage the day ahead for example the way a neuro typical (NT) brain automatically does. This means that a feeling of being lost and confused drives their behaviour in pursuit of predictability – safety.
Autistic children have to be explicitly taught many things that are just picked up naturally by an NT developing brain, one example is personal space, an unwritten social rule that NTs ‘just get’.
This explicit translating the world and teaching of unspoken rules not only takes more parenting and takes more out of you, it takes more out of them as a child. Every minute of every day, autistic children have to work at understanding the world around them. They can’t just ‘be’. Little Miss can’t just be an 8 year old girl, she has to work at being an 8 year old girl, consciously thinking about what to do next, translating each scene she is in to figure out what she is expected to do next. Like acting a part, playing a role but without a script or screenplay.
Autism is context blind which means that she can’t generalise her experiences so each situation is a new situation for her. She is building a bank of experiences like a library to call upon next time, but each one is only useful in the future if everything in the new situation is the same as that in the banked experience. An NT child could pull up a mental picture and expectation of what the day would entail from that bank if we said we are going to a park, whether they had been to that specific park or not. The reality would be close enough to the mental picture they imagine in that it would have play equipment, some grass etc. Little Miss H can’t pull up that mental image as a generality. She needs the exact input of what that park looks like. What play equipment, what the slide looks like (colour, number of steps etc), how many swings there are, the layout etc etc. Without this exact information the anticipation of the event is very stressful for her. The reality once you get there is often more successful as she feels safe again. This is the crux of the issue with transitions in autistic children.
Imagine being told you are going somewhere. No details. You just have to follow blindly and have faith with zero information about what awaits you. Imagine then arriving somewhere you’d never been before and you didn’t know what you were supposed to do or how long you were going to be there. You’d feel pretty uneasy too.
Well that uncertainty is what drives much of the behaviour in autistic children. Add in the sensory element and you can see where problems arise.
This is why often the promise of a reward falls on deaf ears as they can’t generally visualise it anyway – even something positive causes anxiety so it isn’t a motivator.
The threat of a sanction eg confiscating screen time again isn’t something they are projecting forward to and imagining being without so behaviour modification is not achieved.
Every day I have to modify my interaction and parenting accordingly and this takes conscious effort and I can’t just react, I can’t just ‘be’. I have to consciously think about everything we as NTs, normally take for granted. I have to work at every day – translating it and explaining it, planning for it, pre-empting it and teaching it.
This process (of learning that many traditional aspects of ‘parenting as normal’ aren’t suitable) has resulted in us doing things our way and that’s OK. We’ve had to make it up as we went along. Each situation presenting a new set of criteria to figure out. Trying to adapt the environment or situation sometimes is more successful than trying to address the behaviour itself. Creative approaches to managing behaviour and redirections often take place instead of rationalising and using the behaviour as a lesson. It might look like we are doing it ‘wrong’ but for us it’s right.
We might not reprimand when someone looking in feels we should. We might not manage behaviour in a way that people think we should. We might seem to let her get away with stuff. We might do our thing, our way. We might appear unnecessarily strict. We might appear to be a kill joy by stopping an activity seemingly prematurely, we might not let her join in stuff that she seems (at that moment) desperate to do. We might seem to be forcing her to do stuff that she seemingly doesn’t want to do. We might appear to contradict ourselves. We might appear to be ‘over rewarding’. We might appear to be oblivious to stuff.
There are reasons behind everything we do. A lot of work has gone into the way we do things. There are days of trying every other way. There are nights of sleeplessness from where we have got it very wrong, there are bruises from making a mess of it and there are bruises from doing it right. There are oceans of tears from unsuccessfully doing it other ways. There are rays of sunshine from the days it all works.
We do whatever works and that’s OK.