Thursday, May 23, 2013

When your child doesn't understand emotions

I felt compelled to write this post after the turn of events that happened in our household last Friday.  While most people have been incredibly supportive and generous in their offers to help in the aftermath, there have been others who just can't understand that 'punishing' Jacob for what he did will not work.  Sure we can, and do, model the correct behaviour and talk to him about how he can respond more appropriately to his emotions next time but the thing about people who have Autism is that they often do not understand emotions or else they display what society would call 'inappropriate' emotion when faced with a challenging situation.

Perhaps I should rewind a bit and explain what actually happened!  Last Friday was a curriculum day and I'd planned to do something special.  We were going to visit Daddy at work.  Jacob was doing his usual thing of completely ignoring me when I reminded him a million times to get ready.  Cue: screaming when the rest of us walked out the door when he wasn't ready.  He got himself dressed eventually and came out to the car but then wouldn't get in the car.  I started the car like I usually do to show him that I was serious about going and then jumped out to coerce him into his car seat.  Unfortunately this time, I had put the car in reverse and left the hand brake off (so flustered was I about Jacob!) so the car started rolling backwards.  I realised straight away but by then the car door, which was open, had hit the pole under the carport and I could hear the screech of the hinges being pulled apart.  I managed to get back in the car and put the hand brake on but by then the door was wrecked and couldn't be shut.

Needless to say, I was so angry at Jacob.  Yeah, I know.  It wasn't entirely his fault but all his mucking around had caused me to not be able to concentrate properly.  And so silly things happened.  I tried to shut the door but couldn't.  Meanwhile Esme is crying because she's upset about what's happened and Jacob is sitting there smiling and saying, 'The door can be fixed.  It really can be fixed'. to stand there and keep your cool with your child when they are smiling and not remorseful at all about their actions.  And I'm sorry to say, I did not keep my cool.  There was a lot of shouting involved.  I got told by Jacob that 'we can still go Mummy.  We can go on the train instead'.  It wasn't until Jacob realised that, as a consequence of what had happened we would NOT be going to Daddy's work that the meltdown happened.  Jacob's meltdowns are full on.  Tears. Screaming. Hitting.  Kicking.  Pinching.  The best thing to do with him when having a meltdown is make sure he is in a safe place away from others as he is likely to really hurt someone and then ignore him until he calms down.  I thought he was in a safe place this time.  But then I heard a crash and turn around to see that he has put his foot through a glass window (luckily I guess that he was still wearing his gumboot). 

I couldn't believe it.  Not only has the car door been wrecked.  Now the window too.  I didn't even have any words to express my anger at this!  And yet again.  No reaction from Jacob.  There was no guilty shock from him that you would expect from other kids.  No 'I'm so sorry I did this'.  Just nothing.  I think he may have even said he did it because I wasn't taking him to see Daddy.  And his resentment at not being able to see Daddy at work continued despite him having broken the window.

I think Jacob did calm down about half an hour after this happened.  Then he was completely back to normal and happy again like what normally happens after a huge meltdown.  Luckily the car door was fixed the following Monday.  It only took a couple of hours and was a lot cheaper than what we'd thought it would be.  The glass, however, cost us $360 to be replaced.  Kind of an expensive day.

Both Chris and I were really angry at Jacob.  We talked about things we could do to make him realise the consequences of his actions.  Taking money out of his moneybox to pay for some of the window.  Restricting some of his activities.  That type of thing.  But after a lot of discussion after the event (when we were both much calmer!) we realised that was just pointless.  He wouldn't understand why he was being punished.  He was angry.  So he responded in the only way he knew how.  By showing that in a physical way.  What we need to do is teach him alternative way of coping with an emotional overload.  It's not a quick fix solution but something that we will work towards together. 

I really think that the hardest thing about raising a child with autism is the emotional side.  It's so hard not to feel frustrated that your child is not responding in a socially appropriate way to particular emotions.  It's hard not to feel frustrated that your child doesn't feel remorse for doing something wrong.  It's hard not to hear your child say 'sorry' for something they've done.  Often just the simple act of 'I'm sorry Mummy' or seeing your child realise that they've done something wrong can make you feel less angry with them.  But we don't get that with Jacob.  We just need to understand that he is wired differently to others. And that's ok too.  I hope this post has helped those people in our life understand him a little better. 


Yvette ODowd said...

Oh, Narelle :( I am reading this and remembering incidents I had forgotten, things that confirm my thoughts that Kieran is on the spectrum, thankfully just right up at the borderline. I remember the times of kicking, pinching and refusing to go/do things. At the time, ASD wasn't recognised the way it is now and I hope it is some consolation that people really have no excuse for not understanding this is not a behavioural or discipline issue.

At 22, Kieran is such a kind, caring man who just needs order and control of his life and to be respected for who he is. He needs to be prompted for stuff like taking a shower or socialising but he doesn't fight that. I hope your journey will end with a wonderful son who is just different to society's norm.

Broken things can be fixed or replaced and forgotten in the long run. As are lost tempers and regretful responses.

Jess64 said...

Wow what a stressful day for you and your family. It sounds like Jacob is lucky to have a family who understands his needs so well and I really hope you find some long term solutions to help him deal with these situations. I think you dealt with the situation is such an amazing, caring and thoughtful manner.

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