Saturday, October 12, 2013

Autism Answer: Show And Teach, But Don't Judge

I remember when all four of my boys were little and I was often refereeing sibling battles. "I wanna be the red ranger!!" one son would cry, while an older brother stood his ground and stared menacingly, insisting, "You can NOT be the red ranger! You are the green ranger, and I'm the red ranger. You HAVE to go over THERE and call me to come help you. Because I AM the red ranger!!"

Sometimes, I would physically have to hold one back from another, or hug a broken hearted would-be red ranger while he cried.

It was not my job to judge their feelings as foolish or unimportant. It was my job to help them learn how to handle disappointments, disagreements, and let downs. It was my job to show them how to work together and gain skills through play. 

But sometimes, when they were threatening to hurt each other, or yelling cuss words across the room, insisting that it was THEIR turn to use the popcorn bowl, or HIS fault that the toy sword had to be broken to pieces because he wasn't playing the game properly, I would catch myself saying things like,"For goodness sake, it's just a bowl!" and "Who cares how he plays the game, you're being silly!" and "It's not like you're really the red ranger anyway, just let him be the red ranger. It's not a big deal!"

In all of these instances, I was kind of right. But my attitude was wrong. Our children's feelings about what matters to them are not silly or no big deal. And by judging their chosen issue as such, I was tearing them down.

I don't have much guilt over it. I built my boys up more than I tore them down. And when I would realize that an attitude I was wearing was less than flattering, I would find a more suitable one and change. However....

It took me longer to make this shift with my youngest brother. His emotional turmoil over calendar dates and car shapes lasted into his teens and early twenties. I told him they were ridiculous and silly. I told him to just stop it. I thought I was helping, because he was having a hard time making friends and so I said things like,"Because nobody wants to talk about something as dumb as what shapes the cars will be in 2016!"

But it was never my job to judge his feelings as foolish or unimportant. It was my job to help him learn how to handle disappointments, disagreements, and let downs. It was my job to show him how to work with others and gain skills. 

Small changes can make huge differences! Taking the time to offer coping skills and alternative passions, rather than judging existing ones, can be life changing for the entire family. And it was for us! Once I learned to do that for everyone I love, things got easier for all of us!

Some of the people in this story are autistic, and some aren't. But who is-- and who isn't-- is exactly not the point. 

It doesn't matter what age, challenge or culture you are, our issues and our feelings about them will be different. I couldn't care less if my kids eat pork at a friends house, while another family might be horribly offended. 

It is never our place to judge a person as ridiculous or bad because of what they have feelings about. It is our place, with family and friends, to help find ways of coping with disappointment, working toward goals and finding comfort in the world. 

Without judging what those goals or disappointments are.

Hugs, smiles, and love!!

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)