Have you ever watched someone and said, “Well, that’s new!”
I found myself saying this phrase constantly in the past few years while watching my son, and I asked myself why that may be.
You see, it’s easy to assume someone’s ability – or inability – based on our perception of what their capabilities might be. However, I’ve found that whenever I did this – I quickly discovered just how wrong I was.
You see, I underestimated my own son’s ability, but more so, his own determination at figuring things out for himself. Or more often, his willingness to be more independent.
Just because we don’t understand his communication, because he doesn’t communicate like most of us, doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have anything to say. His actions speak volumes as to what he wants and what he doesn’t want. The fact that he doesn’t speak as verbally as anyone else doesn’t mean that he doesn’t think or know what’s going on.
Over time he has shown interest in just doing things himself. And, as parents, we want to be there for our kids every step of the way, but there are moments – those life stages – where it’s time to start letting our kids do their own thing – and for us to take a step back.
Each time I witness this in him, I stand in amazement at his determination to do things himself. At the same time I realize within myself that I’ve underestimated his resolve.
This reminds me that we often do this with each other. How often do we assume the abilities or intentions of someone else? How often are we wrong with our assessment? I’ve found that my errors impacted my own attitude towards my son, and as a result his responses were often expressed in frustration.
Let’s dive into a meltdown situation, as many of us autism parents understand and recognize… and see what typically happens.
First, there are warning signs of sensory overload. Each individual expresses these warning signs differently. Usually stimming increases as a means to mitigate all of the sensory input.
Second, various forms of actions increase to express what is happening to them. This can range from more verbal interaction that doesn’t make sense, or even physical action that could potentially be self-injurious behavior. No matter what that expression is to the individual – to parents, they know that their kid is stressing out and whatever situation they are in needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
Lastly, as often is the case, the meltdown occurs.
Now, for those that don’t know the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown is that a tantrum can be controlled…. a meltdown can’t. All we can do is help the individual from not getting injured.
It’s not until after the meltdown occurs when parents and loved ones are able to fully relive and assess that situation to figure out what all of the triggers were that caused the meltdown. This is when parents often recount all that happened before the meltdown to try to discover where to mitigate so as to reduce that input in the future. We do this to protect our kids, and to help them navigate the world until they can do this by themselves.
What’s always fascinating is watching our kids go through a meltdown, and then when it’s all done – they can laugh and smile like nothing has happened. For us parents, however, we can be in a position where we are beat up and worn out.
This isn’t to say in these situations that my son has it easy. The reality is that everything leading up to the meltdown is him processing everything at the same time, and him having that sense of relief when its over. His resolve to push through these situations is amazing to me, and over time our resolve to allow him a safe space and opportunity to address those extreme situations has allowed him to work on his own self-regulation at his own pace.
When I shared this subject in the weekly LinkedIn newsletter, a comment by Dvora Phillip serves as a great reminder. She shares that her mentor often said to assume competence. And I agree. We should assume our children are more than capable to do whatever they want to do. Their resolve to accomplish great things should not be underestimated.
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