There are major advantages in parenting a special needs child: First, you have a ready-made excuse to beg off parties you really don’t want to go to anyway. Not that we ever did that. Second, with a little cajoling–and a lot of paperwork–the government is more than willing to pay for their medical expenses pretty much for life. And third, you find out that the behavior therapy that is supposed to help your 5’6” 130-pound autistic twelve-year-old to not freak out in the middle of Wal-Mart really isn’t for him at all. It’s for you–the parent.
The Meyer Syndrome
So it was a very pleasant but sobering surprise to learn that I already have that miraculous ability–sans the whole vampire thing.
Why Can’t You Control Your Kid?
There’s something called Behavior Therapy that many kids with autism need. It’s a type of therapy that helps them learn to function in an acceptable manner especially in public or social settings. That’s where we the parents tend to get the most embarrassed. Sure the meltdowns at home are tough, but it’s their thrashing around on the floor in the middle of the mall that makes people look at YOU with that “why can’t you control your kid?” expression. Some of these social issues our SN kids understand right away. More often than not it takes awhile, maybe even years, before certain things click with them.
What I discovered through the therapy was I was the one who needed the most help. I was the one who tended to lose my temper, I was the one who would bark a reply when I was interrupted, and I was the one who would bellow my frustrations to the rafters. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that your kids minimize your strengths and maximize your weaknesses. That couldn’t be more true than with a special needs child. So, if my son started to get a little upset about something, I would get upset too, which of course only made him worse. If he raised his voice, I’d raise mine louder, and then we were in a shouting match. If he threw a temper tantrum, it would be a close contest over who would win the Biggest Brat award. So much for the mature parent modeling good behavior.
It’s All About Me
Then, I started to notice that if I changed the timber of my voice when he was freaking out, he would change with it. When I made his frustrations into a game rather than a chore, he followed me. When I hugged him instead of wrestling him to ground, he hugged right back.
Wow, I thought, this behavior therapy works.
It took a little time, but eventually the tantrums in the department stores grew to a minimum. I got fewer calls from his teacher at school. He didn’t attempt to choke his two younger sisters quite as often. All because I changed.
Then I thought: why couldn’t I apply the same principle outside my family? The results were extraordinary.
We Need More Jaspers in the World