It was another day. Up at 4:45 am. I watched the end of the early morning news, talked to my husband before he left for work, and then by 5:20 I decided it was time to get going for the day. I went into the kitchen with the dog close by side hoping for a bite of breakfast. I looked at the calendar to see what was on the agenda for the new few days. The usual appointments dotted the days, school projects, and the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. As I let the dog outside, I laid out P’s morning med routine. I let the dog back in and then she knew it was time to wake up the kids. We made a quick trip downstairs to make sure D was up and moving. The back upstairs to P’s room. I made it to his door with the dog anxiously wagging her tail ready to do her job as the official morning wake up greeter. I say a quick prayer Dear Lord, please look after this child and help him navigate his day. There could so many prayers to offer, but that is what came to my heart when I entered P’s room. “Good Morning!” I say as I pulled off the covers. P popped up “Mom! Daisy!” P stretched, smiled, and hopped out of bed. I sighed thinking that this could be a good day. As P got ready for school, I heard the usual questions. “What’s the weather?” “Is Daddy at work now?” “What’s for lunch?” P followed his routine and we made it school early with time to spare! As I watched him scamper into school, I thought it was going to be a good day.
It was a good day until the phone rang at 2:30pm. I picked it up to see the school name on the caller ID. My heart rate instantly tripled in speed, because as an autism parent you know the school calls it is not usually for social reasons and definitely not at 2:30 in the afternoon. I gulped, answered the phone trying to control my heart rate wondering who would be on the other end praying it was the nurse to tell me that P wasn’t feeling so great. I said “Hello.” And on the other end, I hear the principal of P’s middle school.” He says, “Heather, I’m here with P. You are on speaker phone. There was an incident in the wellness class where P hit another student and made him cry.” My heart sank for the student that P lashed out at. My heart sank even more for P because as I could hear the frustration in the voice of the principal, I knew P must feeling that exact same way. Frustrated because he knew he was in the wrong, but couldn’t voice why he lashed out. Frustrated for feeling overwhelmed with sensory needs. Frustrated for once again having to have the principal call mom.
The principal asked some questions. He went over, once again, the school policy for P’s behavior today and the consequences that would follow. Before we hung up the phone the principal sighed into the phone, “Heather, this behavior has got to stop with P.” I felt very angry for the sharp tone towards me and the insinuation that we aren’t working with P to control his emotions. In the end, I knew that P was impeding on the job of the school to provide a safe learning environment for all kids.
That call reminded me of a conversation that took place at the beginning of the year when P was new to the school. I asked to speak with the teaching team P would be working with to develop a plan for P when negative behaviors popped up. They smiled and said, “Oh, we will be fine. P will learn the ropes just like the rest of the kids.” And that is why I wrote my tips for handling autism and discipline.
- Always have a plan. Make that plan for when negative behaviors pop up. Stop the small stuff before it grows into big stuff.
- Focus on positive reinforcement vs. negative reinforcement. When you stop the small stuff, say thank you for following instructions. That must have been hard, but I’m proud of you!
- Use obsessions to your advantage. Pokemon, horses, legos, Paw Patrol, movies, computer games, songs, TV show, dogs, etc. Whatever it is learn to use it in your favor. What will your kiddo work for?
- Get to know the why behind the behavior. Is the child seeking out sensory input? Or are they avoiding sensory input? Feeling overwhelmed in a situation? Too much noise? Too much jostling in line. Get to know the reason so teaching can happen to improve those situations.
Most of all be consistent in your plan.
You plan does not need to include criticism, making the situation (hopefully a molehill) into a big situation (mountain), and when consequences do occur, please do not delay consequences for kids. The discipline, correction, or redirection whatever you may call it needs to happen immediately. Consequences need to be immediate, so the child can make the connection between their actions and its resulting consequence. Some children may forget what they did when they got in trouble and cannot connect the punishment to their earlier actions. For example, P had been given detention on a Monday, but it was not enforced for 36 hours. By the time the detention occurred, P was asked do you know why are here today and he honestly had a forgotten. When he truthfully answered, “I don’t know” that prompted one more phone call home where we had to point out that the lesson was lost.
After the consequence is enforced, revisit the incident and give your child a chance to be successful the second time around. With help from family, friends, and teachers, the lessons will make an impact on future success.
All my best to you,