ORIGINALLY POSTED: APRIL 3, 2012
April 3rd: Autism has taught me that most times a whisper and a hug can accomplish much more than a yell and a time out.
Many people who have not experienced autism first hand believe that if we’d only discipline our children a little more, used more timeouts, yelled more often and maybe even spanked them, then our children would behave, our children would mind themselves in public, and our children would make better adults for it. They’d even thank us one day for “beating” the spoiled right out of them.
These people are ignorant.
They don’t mean to be ignorant, but they don’t make the effort to change that either. Autism isn’t about making our children behave in public, it’s not about our kids being spoiled, it’s about the lights being too bright, the schedule being changed, and the mall simply being too crowded that day. There have been days when I’ve lost my temper and yelled at K. I’m not proud of those days because I know she doesn’t understand and I always make a public apology with a promise to “try harder to be a happy mommy. Angry mommies aren’t any fun. I grew up in a home where my parents yelled. They yelled often and about lots of different things. Sometimes we deserved it, sometimes we didn’t. Regardless, it was frightening. I don’t want to be an angry mommy, so I do my best to maintain my patience and always present my best to my kids.
I have learned that yelling and getting loud in response to them yelling and being loud only makes them more loud. Kids don’t yell because they have the freedom or the right, they need something. More often than not, it’s been a rough day for one, or both, of them and being loud is all they can do to tune out everything else. This is where hugs come in. When K is having a particularly rough day, she sometimes looses the ability to articulate her feelings, all she can do is get loud and yell. Wrapping my arms around her to keep her as still as possible and whispering in her ears has become a first line of defense against such days. Whispering to her, not only helps her to remember her “inside voice”, but allows her to focus on something, the fact that I’m speaking but she cannot hear me. This eventually brings her to a moment of quiet. She needs to stop yelling and screaming to be able to hear me and often times, it works. She’ll quiet down in a matter of minutes. I whisper things like “everybody has rough days” (we don’t use the word bad because I don’t want her to feel like she’s bad for behaving that way.). I tell her “it’s okay to have a rough day, everybody does.” or “Sometimes our rough days are a little more rough than other peoples. That’s okay.”, or “This is a rough moment in a good day. We are still having a good day.” Emphasizing that this little moment, this little tantrum or fit, isn’t ruining our day, or our outing, is key. Again, this helps her to realize that it’s okay to have a tough moment, a moment in your day when everything is falling apart, but that your day doesn’t have to be defined by such a moment. This hugging/whispering ritual helps her in so many ways. It allows her to know we still love her, we still are having a good time, and that “this too shall pass”. If I raise my voice to her when she’s already anxious and upset, it only makes her worse. She gets more frightened and anxious, and now she’s more upset because she’s upset me.
It’s not always easy to have patience with a child, any child. It’s important to try. It’s important to learn when to walk away and when you have the strength for one more hug. Parents need to learn the power of a whisper because it’s much more powerful than a scream and twice as effective.