“Autists are the ultimate square pegs, and the problem with pounding a square peg into a round hole is not that hammering is hard work. It’s that you’re destroying the peg” Paul Collins
Recently, during a visit to the grocery store, I overheard the blood curdling, inconsolable screams of a distressed child. It brought back memories of the numerous, similar experiences I had with my son Jordan. The time when we were shopping for new winter boots and he became so distressed that he overturned the entire shelf of boots. On another occasion while in a restaurant, just as the waitress place our drinks on the table, Jordan knocked them over, pushed another waitress and then as I went to carry him out, bit me. Every grocery shopping experience meant a “meltdown”. So my heart went out to this child and his parents as many in the store commented about the child’s bad behaviour and lack of discipline. I know how horrific for parents these moments can be. Not only is your child losing control, you have to contend with judgement and remarks from others.
Now the child in the grocery store could have simply been having a tantrum, I don’t know. It might also have been an autistic meltdown. While similar behaviours are displayed, a tantrum is willful behaviour as a result of not getting something wanted in that moment. An autistic meltdown occurs when the child experiences sensory, emotional and informational overload or there is too much unpredictability. This loss of control can be manifested verbally by screaming, shouting or crying or physically by hitting, biting, kicking or otherwise lashing out at themselves or others. These meltdowns are not an indication of a misbehaving child or a disciplinary problem.
These are just some of the challenges faced by parents. Other sources of stress include adjusting and adapting to the child’s needs, challenging behaviours, concern for the child’s future, lack of sleep, accessing diagnosis and services, navigating the system, lack of healthcare provider knowledge, daily life, increased expenses, underemployment, loss of employment, and not being able to get a break. These heightened care demands can often result in psychological distress, depression, anxiety and other physical and mental health issues.
1. Prepare and organize.
2. Take time for yourself.
3. Practice mindfulness to improve your capacity for being present in the here and now. Remember to breath
4. Reframe negative thoughts. Practice positive thinking and self-talk.
5. Practice relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, visualization and meditation.
6. Utilize the support of family and friends.
7. Get respite.
8. Ensure a healthy diet and regular exercise.
9. Connect with other parents of autistic children.
10. Remind yourself that despite the challenges associated with having an autistic child, this child is one of the most amazing, incredible beings you will ever know.
"Autism...offers a chance for us to glimse an awe-filled vision of the world that might otherwise pass us by" Dr. Colin Zimbleman