Children with developmental delays often experience awkwardness in social and emotional aspects. It is often difficult for them to manage their feelings. It is also compounded by their inability to express how they really feel.
This inability to fully express their emotions often leads to feelings of anger and frustration. These unresolved feelings of anger and frustration often lead to meltdowns.
One way to help these children manage their anger and emotions is to do role playing at home. Practice different scenarios with your child to see how he would react in certain situations. This advanced preparation helps a child know what to expect during a visit or a confrontation.
Mommy C. does her best to prepare her child for first time visits to doctors/dentists. She even takes the time to role play potential confrontational scenarios with her son. The role playing adds a sense of “routine” to the procedure as the child knows what to expect and what is going to happen.
To prepare Nicky for confrontational scenarios, Mommy C. would tease Nicky by calling him funny names to see how he would react. A typical teasing conversation would start like this:
Mom: “Nicky Mickey Mouse!”
Nicky starts crying: “No, I’m not Mickey Mouse. I’m Nicky A.”
3 months after AIT, Mom reported changes in the way Nicky reacts to typical teasing:
Mom: “Nicky Mickey Mouse!”
Nicky (without crying) : No. I’m Nicky A.
Nicky finds Mom’s teasing irritating sometimes. It is important to note that he no longer cries when teased and that he is better at controlling his emotions. He is also able to divert himself into doing other activities like drawing, etc. He is also now able to tell when a person is joking or trying to insult him.
In school, Nicky has a classmate named Howard. Howard often sings “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” even if he knows that Nicky finds the song irritating.
This time Nicky decided to hug Howard to stop him from singing. His attempts fail as Howard just ignores him and continues singing the song.
Nicky said: “Stop!” Howard heard the command and immediately stopped singing.
Mom was so happy to share that Nicky was able to handle this sticky situation. Three months ago, Nicky would’ve had a meltdown in front of Howard.
During another incident in school, there was a bully called Kit. He was a big boy who would turn his classmates into door smashers. Nicky was one of those kids he bullied.
While Kit was at busy turning the smaller kids into door smashers, Nicky could only watch. He afraid to do anything because Kit was much bigger than he was.
Nicky was so frustrated that he blurted out, “Let me smash Kit’s face. I want to be a giant robot so I can smash Kit’s face!“
Now Kit had one weakness. Kit hated listening to anyone singing the ABC song. Nicky was able to remember how much Kit hated the ABC song. He irritated Kit on purpose by singing the ABC song to him.
Kit was so irritated with the song that he stopped door smashing the little kids and concentrated on blocking out the racket Nicky was making with his ABC song.
Mom was very happy to know that despite the fact that Nicky wanted to physically hurt Kit. Nicky was able to control his emotions. He was also able to find an ingenius and peaceful solution to the problem.
Not everything has been a bed of roses though, Nicky also encountered his share of setbacks in school. He recently told the teacher to “Go to Hell”.
It wasn’t exactly a good choice of words for an 8 year old boy to say. Nicky caused quite a commotion in school, since the teacher was really hurt by what he said. Mommy C. had a lot of explaining and apologizing to do. Even Mommy C. couldn’t understand where he picked up those words, since she makes it a policy never to use swear words in the family.
Life is never easy for a child with autism. Social interaction and managing emotions are giant hurdles for these children. Mothers like Mommy C. celebrate each new milestone that children like Nicky reach.
We can’t help but be truly happy for our children- the first time they behave at the barber’s and manage to control their fear of the shaver. We also can’t help but be happy- the first time they confront bullies in school and come out unscathed like David confronting Goliath. Each milestone, each hurdle these children overcome, are little baby steps in their journey towards recovery.
Nicky‘s journey teaches us that we have so much more to learn our children’s struggles with autism. They have so much to teach us. We learn by seeing the world through their eyes and taking the time to appreciate things we normally take for granted.