Last year, I posted “Can You Say No to an Autistic Child” where I talked about the challenges with being able to say “No” to our first-born Aiden who is on the Autism Spectrum. I also included strategies that helped us avoid triggering meltdowns whenever we had to say “No”. The most important take-away from that post is really just knowing your child. When you know your child – and with love and patience towards your child and yourself – it is possible to overcome the challenges.
Nowadays, Aiden has learned to manage us when we say “No”. In his own way, he’s learned how to negotiate. Most of the time, he’ll exhibit verbal persistence, uncompromising insistence, affectionate gestures, and… patience! He has learned how to negotiate. The concept of give-and-take. The concept of not-now-definitely-later. The concept of following-up and boy, does he really follow-up!
The other day, Aiden asked to go outside. Hanging out at the front yard is one of his absolute favorite things to do. It was a little cold though and I will not even lie, I was being a lazy mom.
Aiden: “Go outside.” (kissing me)
Me: “No Baby. Maybe tomorrow.” (kissing him back)
Aiden: “Pwease.” (looking at me with puppy-dog eyes)
Hubby (overhearing the conversation): “Let’s go!”
Me: (throwing Hubby a huge smile)
Hubby: “How can we say no to that? He said ‘Please’ so nicely!”
Aiden knew exactly what to do. He wanted to do a preferred activity so he requested. When I said “no”, instead of reacting with a meltdown, he used his words and said “please”. And honestly, no matter how lazy and tired I may have felt that day, I would have also given in. I would have taken him like he requested. Why? Because he communicated effectively. He managed his behavior very well. We want more of these so it’s best to reward him.
In the last year, Aiden have decided to “let loose” at home. He will dress appropriately for outside activities but at home – everything comes off except his underwear. We’ve tried to many different approaches to try and get him to wear his clothes inside the house. We’ve hovered, we’ve chased, we’ve firmly instructed, we’ve begged. But the child will only put on his clothes at home when it is time for school or if we are going outside.
Well, the infamous Texas Winter Storm 2021 event happened. We lost power. We lost heat. The house became cold so there was no other choice but to bundle up. Voila! The whole week – he wore a shirt. So, after the storm passed and we got our utilities back – I followed through. Each time the shirt came off, I would calmly bring him a shirt and say, “You need to wear a shirt so you do not get sick”. When he’d ask for his hoverboard, we’d calmly tell him, “Go put on your shirt first”. Without hesitation, he will put on a shirt. We are now on our 3rd week and he is still wearing a shirt inside the house 95% of the time! Effective communication through calm negotiations has definitely led to mutually beneficial results. And yes, I’m talking about grown up’s and a 10 year old child in the spectrum!
Whenever Aiden wants to eat something that has to be made (cookies, Jell-O, cake, eggs), he will take out all the materials and ingredients and lay them out on the kitchen counter. Then he will come to one of us (usually his Dad) and say, “Make cake/Jell-O/cookie.”
When he wants to go the store, he’ll get completely get dressed and tell one of us, “I want go H-E-B”. And when everyone’s ready to go he’ll say, “C’mon! Let’s go.”
We don’t always say “yes” to everything he wants or asks. But most of the time, we do. Why? Because our first and foremost goal is communication. We want him to learn and be comfortable in verbalizing his wants and needs. Managing behavior is secondary for us (for now). So we do end up saying “yes” more often and we save our “no” for when situations really do call for them. And so far it has really helped encourage Aiden’s speech and communication. Our home is so much happier (and louder).
With children in the spectrum, you have to thoughtfully decide on your goals. This is ours. And every day, we work on our goals and celebrate every progress. My heart is always grateful for every word uttered, for every logic applied, for every negotiation tactic. While these may seem trivial to most, I know that there are many parents/guardians/caregivers out there who haven’t even heard their child’s voice. We are most definitely blessed.