Imagine going into work and confronting the following day in, day out:
- Knowing that you were probably going to be confused about what the boss is wanting from you because you can't quite understand his requests.
- He talks too fast. Uses strange language, doesn't mean what he says. Has different tones of voice you can't quite understand and gets impatient if you can't keep up.
- Knowing that you weren't going to be like all your colleagues, and knowing that they'll notice.
- Feeling anxious that you weren't able to predict with any certainty what the day was going to look like or whether you're going to be able to cope with all the changes.
- Knowing that you can't focus on one thing when there are so many extremely loud and over bearing sounds or sensory distractions going on competing for your attention.
- Just getting your head around one task and then being asked to quickly stop what you were doing and try to adapt to another task that you not only have to understand but have to achieve within a set time frame.
- Now feeling inadequate / worthless / like something's wrong with you because you notice that all your colleagues are able to do things but you can't.
- Noticing that your boss was angry or impatient, or saying something mean, but having no idea what you did wrong or why they were being mean.
- Feeling inadequate / worthless / like something's wrong with you because of your boss's reaction.
- Afterwards have your colleagues join in, wondering what's wrong with you because you keep making mistakes or misunderstand what they are saying too, entering into conflict with them, and having no idea how that happened.
- Feeling inadequate / worthless / like something's wrong with you because that incident gave you even more evidence that defines me as not good enough.
- And then, after doing that all day - not knowing yourself what's 'wrong with you', not having a solution to work with and just wanting to escape it all - you come home from work into your home environment. You enter into another world of more expectations, of feeling misunderstood, overwhelmed, tired from being in survival mode all day, and completely intolerant of any more stimulus, but still having chores to do, transitions to try and navigate and more personalities to work with, or appointments you need to go to. You'd want nothing more than to escape reality and crawl into a hole but not being allowed to.
How would you feel by the end of your day?
Calm, relaxed and reasonable?
Or irritable, exhausted and defeated?
As an adult in this scenario, you may have some knowledge that there is help for you and you could research how to manage your day differently tomorrow or learn more about what could be happening for you and your brain.
You may also have some knowledge on what self care is and what things you might be able to do to put things in place when you recognise you need a break and give it to yourself, or ask for help.
As an adult you have some sort of emotional regulation skills to draw upon to deal with the build up of all these emotions.
But at the age and stage of brain development your child is at - do they have this information?
Does it all of a sudden make sense why your child might have a 'meltdown' or struggle with depression or anxiety trying to cope with all this, day in day out?
This is why we MUST get into the world of our child and understand their thought processes, their fears, their reactions and their behaviour.
Their behaviour is communicating how they are dealing with life. Their emotions are showing you how they are perceiving life and their self-worth.
Look for the patterns, the clues and the evidence that paints the real picture of why the behaviour exists.
These important pieces of information when put together will show you how the behaviour is serving your child - pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain.
It will show you the skillful ways your child has learnt to SURVIVE because that's the state your child is often in - survival mode - and they are doing the best they can with the resources they have TO SURVIVE.
And when you make sense of their behaviour FIRST, you are going to be better equipped to devise a 'behaviour management' plan that actually helps your child and organically stops the behaviour, instead of punishing them in the hope of subordination.
They are not being insubordinate. They're trying to survive!
As a parent, it's not easy. It's not clear cut. It takes time, investigation, trial and error and flexibility.
What works today, may not work tomorrow, and today's behaviour may be different to tomorrow's behaviour, but your child needs you to be their detective, continually trying to investigate their perception of their world and help them. You make sense of that perception so you can put the correct supports in place and help them learn how (and when) to adapt or how (and when) to retreat from life's situations.
Because they literally can't do this on their own.
If you'd like some more information on anxiety in autism, why not watch our free webinar. It covers topics on helping with the parent/carer's mental health, understanding an autistic child's emotions, helping other children and relationships in the family.