“Parenting and Empowerment”
by Laura Carinci
As a parent of a soon to be eight-year-old child with autism, I feel qualified to discuss the helplessness and loss of control that can permeate a family that cares for a child with autism. Our life was ruled by what our son, Robert, wanted or didn’t want to do. His tantrums, from a very young age, were traumatic, often prompting other people to look at us unfavorably, as if we were being abusive, instead of the truth, which in a sense was that Robert abused us. As an example, Robert would often refuse our request to leave the playground. This meant that several people would have to drag him into the car. Putting him into a seatbelt was impossible because of his rage. The unpredictability of Robert's behavior was affecting our own desire for self-preservation. He could be an angel at the park on Tuesday, and the very next day be out of control! As it turned out, Robert was shaping our behavior. We were afraid to do things as a family.
Autism is a disease that takes away a child’s ability to communicate and interact with his world in an appropriate way. Typically, peers learn a tremendous amount of information from observing the environment. Children with autism need to have the simplest tasks taught to them in very small steps. The odd behaviors caused by autism (echolalia, posturing, hand flapping, etc.) all get in the way of effectively communicating with these children. The frustration on the part of parent and child is palpable. Teaching appropriate boundaries seems impossible. How do you explain that you cannot take anything you want from a store? Or that it is now someone else’s turn to play with that toy?
The teachers and director of Ascent have worked with our family so that we can regain some control over our family life. We have learned how to utilize a timer to help transition Robert from one activity to another. Robert now understands beforehand that an activity has limits. With the help of our school, we have been able to teach Robert a morning routine that enables him to get up in the morning self-propelled, without us dragging him out of bed. These things have all been accomplished systematically, transitioning skills learned in the school environment into the home environment, and transitioning skills mastered with teachers to skills mastered by us. We have regained a degree of freedom again. This happened because of commitment on the part of our teachers as well as Robert’s caregivers.
As Robert gets older, new situations arise, and old ones can sometimes resurface. Knowing that with the proper analysis, parents and teachers together can improve upon and many times solve problems that develop is in itself empowering. There is nothing worse than feeling that any given situation is hopeless. We have learned that when we are ready to tackle a difficult situation, there is great probability that we will succeed. Applied Behavioral Analysis is the technique used for all of these tremendous accomplishments. This teaching modality, when used by experienced teachers and consistently followed up at home by regularly coached caregivers, makes our son’s accomplishments become lifelong abilities.