Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Threading the Needle for Behaviour Management

Nathan does not wake up happy.

Normally this isn't a problem because he wakes up at least half an hour before everyone else does.  This gives him time to get through his grumpy phase and be bright and cheerful when we start the morning.

But sometimes, he doesn't wake up early.  And sometimes it's a school day, so I have to wake him up.  On those days, I have to tread a very fine line.  Too much and we hit the tantrum alarm, risking the whole day.  Too little, and he's still asleep and the whole process has to be started over with less time.

I can't be too firm about waking him up.  I usually try to intermittently and gently tickle his feet, just enough to be irritating but not enough to actually irritate.

I can't talk to him, unless he wants to engage me.  Any attempt at conversation will provoke a screaming tantrum.  But at the same time, I have to verbally warn him that I'm there or else he'll get surprised and that will provoke a screaming tantrum.

It reminds me of the old game "Operation" except that instead of a shock and buzz, I get a tantrum.

My husband and I actually have a disagreement about handling this.  He thinks we should just wake Nathan up and use it as an opportunity to teach him to regulate his own behaviour.  While I agree it's important to teach him not to scream and yell at people just because he's upset, I think it's too much to ask first thing in the morning.  Sadly, it's not like there aren't other opportunities through the day. 

My view is that the goal of starting the day well and setting him up for success are more important than teaching him self-regulation in that moment.  Obviously, if I fail and he does start screaming, then it has to be dealt with because we can't reinforce the behaviour.  But if I can avoid it and still get him up and moving in a decent amount of time, then I'll call it a win.

It's not the only time we've come down on opposite sides of the "pandering/accommodating" or "teaching/tantruming" decision.  Most families have these disagreements.  But when your child has autism, it's critical to keep things consistent.  So one of you is going to have to bow down and do something he/she disagrees with in order to maintain consistency.  It's not easy but it is necessary.

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