My oldest boy L has autism, an intellectual and a visual impairment. He’s 6 now, but when he was about 3, he started pushing, scratching and pinching others. Sometimes it was because they got in his way, took his current object of desire from him or that curly girly hair was just calling out to be yanked. Other times it was an attempt to connect with another child or adult and sometimes it was just for attention. Well it has certainly gotten him a lot of attention over the years!
Way back when it all started, I called on the experts. How could we head this behaviour off at the pass? I was told to give him a positive statement of what to DO as opposed to a negative statement of what NOT to do. ‘Hands down’ was the statement that was selected as most appropriate at the time. This, along with diversion, sensory input & breaks, environment management etc, etc, etc. It’s been an ongoing challenge. One that has got the better of me at times. It’s pretty hard not to react when he’s gone to scratch a baby or shoved some random toddler over at the playground.
Like most autism parents I’ve gotten pretty good at dealing with the dirty looks, the comments, making a quick apology on his behalf and depending on the situation, giving a short explanation for his behaviour – sometimes to the parents but always to the kids.
Little kids are generally very accepting of difference. They don’t really care if another kid is screaming or flicking a ribbon or not using words or doing funny body movements. Sometimes they ask questions but once answered, they just get on with the job of playing.
For younger siblings though, its different. They live with autism just like you do, but they don’t have the understanding or reasoning that help them to negotiate their way through the complexities of neurodiversity. Over time, these sibling relationships grow to become the incredible heart-fueling relationships that can keep our autistic children connected to the world and to people from their own age group. Like this delightful pair of brothers in this short film that I came across recently.
Meanwhile back in my current reality, 3yo (N) is just getting to that point where he is asking questions about his older foster brother. We go to a ASD playgroup on a Saturday morning and he calls it the Pinchy Playgroup even though no one else who attends is a ‘pinchy boy’ like our L is.
Fair enough too. He has been on the receiving end of quite a bit few pinches over the years. He’s been pushed, had his hair pulled, been scratched as well as being pinched. He is one of the most important people in L’s life, but recently he has had enough. He’s saying things you don’t want to hear and asking difficult questions that are hard to answer.
The ‘I don’t like him’ statement has been coming out more and more frequently in recent weeks. ‘L doesn’t love me’ is another one I’ve been hearing. It’s complex and I’m trying to explain it to a 3 year old, so I try to keep is simple. Me: Are you good at talking? N: Yes. Me: Is L good at talking? N: No. Me: L loves you very, very much but it’s hard for him to tell you that in words. He shows you by sitting next to you, copying the things you are doing and playing with you. There’s a lot more that we discuss, but that is the general gist of it.
With N’s birthday coming up he’s been so excited about choosing a cake and inviting friends, practising singing the birthday song, telling people how old he will be turning. Today I heard him talking directly to L – something he doesn’t usually do a lot of. But he crouched down, looking for a connection and said ‘do you want to come to my birthday party L? It’s going to be lots of fun!’
So maybe he likes him after all.