Eurgh, J’s behaviour has been challenging over the last week. I put it down to a combination of things:
-Change in routine as J now goes to Nursery (he’s not been around groups of children like this for a little while).
-Turning 3 and officially being a ‘threenager’
-Being more communicative now so ‘asserts’ himself.
-J’s Autistic ‘needs’ not always matching with real life expectations and Mummy’s needs to do things such as grocery shopping!
I love my boy. He is amazing and beautiful but he has a dark side to him. One where he pinches, hits and bites. One where he screams, tells me I’m on ‘time out’ (oh, how I wish!) and steals my glasses from me. 9/10 times it will be directed at me but he will get easily frustrated at other children and if not properly supervised he can (and has) lashed out at children.
I know that the way J sees things, if he’s thinking of something then everyone else must know what he’s thinking as there is no world outside of his own thoughts. If he wants the toy then the other child must know that. If J takes it and the other child resists or gets upset then J doesn’t know what that means or how to handle it. Or if I say we’re going somewhere but J had other plans to build yet more Star Wars spaceships then obviously that’s what we’re doing so when I insist (even with the pecs and timetable) and start getting our shoes and coats ready then again he doesn’t know why I’m having separate ideas to him and how to handle that. So he resorts to hitting or shouting and refusal.
This frustration and social difficulty combined with the brain of a three year (let’s face it terrible 2’s is a lie, it goes on wayyyy longer) is hard for J and hard for those around him. In the bid to help him understand social rules and the concept of friendship I have a couple of ideas that I’m trying.
I think it’s important J knows what is expected of him. I don’t want to bombard him with lots of rules so selected 4 expectations.
1- Listen to Mummy and Daddy.
2- Eat his dinner (breakfast and lunch he’s generally ok with as they are more ‘snacky’, dinner is a different story).
3- Go to bed without upset (he does not transition well from ‘day to night’)
4- To be gentle and friendly.
Whenever J shows that he’s remembered one of these rules he will get a sticker. At first I’ll be quite liberal with the stickers so he gets the idea. Then I’ll be more ‘frugal’ as he gets nearer the end. He’ll have to really earn those stickers. Once it’s complete he’ll get a new car for his collection (they’re in Poundland so not going to break the bank). I’ve created ours using Twinkl’s already made reward chart and then used the edit feature to add our own rules. It definitely saved me a lot of time and swearing at the computer over margins and images not going where they’re meant to.
Usually J is better with video based social stories (we use YouTube) but I haven’t found one that suits us for behaviour. Preschool/nursery is a time where children and still learning social skills and how to function around a group of peers. I don’t expect him to show perfect behaviour and he has to learn to fight his own battles.
However I wanted to create a story that he can share regularly with an adult to show the behaviour we don’t expect and what to do instead. It’s important to say the negative first (the ‘don’t’) and end with the positive as that’s the bit children are likely to remember. If I say ‘don’t run’ which word do you think wth stick with the child? What if I said ‘please walk’? The final part of each page has a positive message for J to remember.
The use of visuals (again courtesy of Twinkl) gives J a clear picture of the do and don’t. J is a very visual child so the clear and simple pictures will help him focus on the message.
Continuing his visual timetable
I do think it’s important for J to see what is happening and what is expected that day. I don’t do the whole day in one go just the next three things on the agenda. It helps J to prepare for what’s happening next. The visual also helps as his hearing tends to stop working when it’s something he doesn’t want to hear (but magically comes back at the sound of a kinder egg being opened). With a visual it’s harder for him to ignore the message. It’s also a lot simpler than listening and processing speech (the words, the tone, the facial expressions).
It shows him what I am expecting him to do before he can move on to something else.
Be firm and mean what I say
Children who are on the Autistic spectrum are often very literally. They expect you to mean what you say. If someone makes a joke about taking J’s nose, he can get upset and demand it back even though it’s obviously still there. I have to be careful how I word things. For example I once said to J ‘Can you put your shoes on?’ And he answered ‘yes’, then walked away. I laughed at myself as I realised he had answered my question, not realising it was an instruction. I then repeated ‘J, put your shoes on’ and he put them on.
So if I give him a threat such as ‘we’ll go home if…’ or ‘I’ll take ____ away’ then I have to be prepared to mean it. We lasted 10 minutes in soft play on Monday as he was just not in the right frame of mind to deal with children in close quarters. I had warned him that we’d go home if he didn’t stop his behaviour, he did it again so we left. Yes I was annoyed that my plan of having a drink and watching J have fun was ruined, and the fact I’d just paid but I stuck to what I said. J knows now that I’m serious. I have learnt the difficult lesson that soft play is just too much for J at the moment. We have to either find one with lots of space or go when it’s really quiet.
Find open spaces
J is an energetic little man. He needs time and space to run off energy and have space away from people, and social expectations. When the weathers cold and wet it’s tempting to hide away but then J just builds this energy up and up until he explodes. He needs the physical outlet so he can run, spin and not have the constraints of being indoor. We have warm clothes, wellies and thick coats so I have started to go out more even in horrible weather.
We popped to the woodlands after nursery. I figured he had been in close quarters with children, adults and structure for 4 hours so could do with some freedom. We spent an hour playing ‘pooh sticks’ with leaves and feathers we found, and running around the open space. That evening J was so chilled at home and went to bed so nicely. May be coincidence but I personally think it was because he had that outlet before heading home.
Asked for support
I have asked for help from some of J’s important adults. I think it’s important to not try and tackle things on your own. You have to take care of yourself and have your own outlet for the stress and pressure behaviour can cause. J’s nursery were very supportive and are reassuring me that they understand it’s not J being ‘naughty’, it’s reactionary to what’s going on around him and in his head. They are going to observe J so I have evidence to show professionals if needed. I spoke to family who give support in form of sugary snacks and sympathetic ear. It’s nice to rant and know that I can call my mum and she’ll come over to ‘share the load’. Lastly, I spoke to the specialist health visitor. She basically said I was doing the right things and to keep going, and let the changes that have been going on the last month or so to settle. Then call her in few weeks to give an update. It wasn’t the practical support I was hoping for but I know that the NHS has a limited budget to offer certain support so I’m just lucky to have someone to talk things through with.
One day I will look back on this post and hopefully be able to smile at the memories. I hope J will grow up strong but respectful, in his own way. I read posts in forums about parents getting serious injuries and police involvement due to the behaviour issue so their children on the spectrum. I hope that because we have the diagnosis at a young age and support in place that this won’t be a reality for us. But if it is…well I’ll love and support him through that too. I may just invest in padding to wear.
Any hints or tips that’s worked for you? Have you had support with behaviour or feel ‘left to it’? I’d love to hear from you x
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