I want to share with you some more tips from parents regarding behaviour and will add some of my own comments to tie reoccurring themes together.
Talking to others and joining support groups
It is important to talk to others or to join a support group. As the old saying puts it – a problem shared is a problem halved.
“Try and meet other parents at support groups or events, it helps to share/off load with people who understand. Use the National Autistic Society and local groups for help and advice.” Pam Martin
The part played by communication difficulties in behaviour which challenges is well documented by parents, and many strategies concentrate on helping us, and the child, communicate more effectively.
These parents share with us some basic pieces of advice that when followed result in more effective communication that helps the child understand, follow instructions, and stay calm:
”Keep speech short/simple, only ask one question at a time and give time for processing before you repeat: Always say their name first, so you have their attention!” Sue Collins
“As a mum of a 15 year-old daughter with Autism, who is extremely vulnerable, my tips to other parents would be to trust your gut instincts, look out for the signs of when they are feeling anxious, non-verbal and verbal, (they can be very subtle to start with) and really get to know these signs. When they are listened to, they can prevent situations from becoming out of control. I also think that communicating clearly, informing them of each and every step of events during each day, is important, again to alleviate anxiety. As many will say, routines are paramount, as are a calm and consistent approach. Never give up on fighting for the services you need, as those who shout loudest will get what they need. Also, I looked at the positives and kept things in perspective. There are many positive qualities with Autism and I think that the more you concentrate on the positives, the more you get. Keeping my daughter completely occupied in something interesting and stimulating in a safe way, has really helped and she is much less likely to want to go and display negative, risky behaviours.” Jenny Hutchings
A significant number of parents talked about using special interests to motivate the child and help bring about changes in behaviour. The interests shared with me have been far-ranging, including the usual Thomas the Tank Engine, Dr Who, Star Trek, through to Irish History, statistics and collections of newspapers. When realising the power of special interests and objects some parents have put together a distraction box. This is full of those items that will distract or redirect your child should the need arise. As one parent put it “you can never find the Argos catalogue when you need it, by the time you do its too late”.
“Home into their interests as much as possible, use them to motivate!” Pam Martin
Having a sense of humour
Some parents who come and talk to me after I have been speaking at a conference or Options Group seminar bring with them a funny story about their child’s behaviour. When I reflect on these stories later, I realise that in themselves the stories are not really funny, in fact they are often tragic or even scary; it is just that parents have learnt to put a comic slant on things. As one parent said: “you have to laugh don’t you, if you don’t you’d cry.”
This parent recognises the value of humour as well as providing space and time alone for the individual with autism:
“My top tip is to use humour whenever possible! Also, make sure you give the person with autism space and time out especially when they are anxious/angry/overloaded, and talk quietly and calmly. My son always has time on his own in his room when he gets in from school, if I start asking him things he becomes very upset and angry, giving this time out helps enormously.” Pam Martin
Staying calm and being consistent
Many parents recognised the part that our emotions and feelings play in helping children manage their behaviour and also in helping us to cope. These parents make the point that staying calm and being consistent does in the long term pay off, even though it can be very difficult at times.
“I know that life with an Autistic child can be very hard, sheer hell at times and parents often get very down – but never portray this in front of your child. Always remain calm and consistent when dealing with a negative behaviour. I can assure parents of younger children that the Autistic child does mature into a more placid, manageable adult. Years later you look back and what seemed very traumatic at the time wasn’t any where near as bad, and you can have a laugh!” Elaine Leigh
“On leaving the seminar I felt I could now be a better parent. Now I know I can’t fix him, but I understand him better, and know I need to make his world less challenging, and therefore less frightening. Also, when the speaker explained that when they talk endlessly about their obsessions they feel confident that they know what they are on about and it is probably the only times they do feel confident, I felt bad about hurrying him up, now I shall let him talk endlessly just so I know he is feeling good about himself. I learned as much about how impatient I am as about autism.” Paul Woodcock
Choose your battles
When supporting children who present a whole range of challenges it is all too easy to find ourselves running around in circles, totally exhausted, and not being very effective (we’ve all been there). That is why my final quote is from a parent who reminds us to choose our battles. The battles that are worth fighting are those that will result in safer, more fulfilled, higher achieving individuals with autism, and families that are more able to get on with living their lives.
“I think this has probably been covered by many people before but the best piece of advice I have ever been given regarding my son is to choose your battles – it really helps sometimes to take a step back from a confrontation/fallout and decide if it is worth pursuing! Also I sometimes think it is a mistake for parents to compare their children as it can make you feel inadequate – they are all very different.” Alison Godber
There is no guarantee that these suggestions will work for your child or are even appropriate for them. As has been said above every individual with autism is exactly that, an individual. What is important for me is that we all try to emulate the creativity and the spirit of hope that led to their use and that we remember that just because something doesn’t work today it doesn’t mean it will not work tomorrow.
Further advice, reading and resources
|• The National Autistic Early Bird Course, which is referred to in Part One of this article, is a well established course that seeks to support parents with newly diagnosed young children. Further details can be found at https://www.nas.org.uk/
• Positive Behaviour Strategies to Support Children and Young People with Autism – Martin Hanbury (2007 Paul Chapman Publishing)
• Challenging Behaviour and Autism – P Whitaker (2001 The National Autistic Society)
• People with Autism Behaving Badly – John Clements (Jessica Kingsley Publishers)
• Parents Survival Manual – E Schopler (1995 Plenum Press New York)
• My Social Stories Book – Carol Gray and A L White (2002 Jessica Kingsley Publishers)
• The NAS also have a very helpful information sheet on the use of social stories this can be found on their web site and is titled “Social Stories and Comic Conversations”.