I live in a world in which my only real life experience with autism is with my son.  My son has high-functioning, autism.  “High functioning” autism is an informal term, used in the autistic community as sort of a measure of where on the autism spectrum one resides.  We often talk about a spectrum but we make assumptions that everyone knows of what we speak.  This is not necessarily so.

There is no diagnosis called “high functioning” autism.  I’ve seen definitions of classic autism as a child who is non-verbal, has trouble communicating attention in the standard way, and who cannot provide answers on a standardized test form.  But from those I have read about and seen, children who are profoundly affected by autism can still be very smart and oriented to the world around them.  Other autistic people have additional disabilities that may impair intellectual function.  This combination of disabilities may be misunderstanding as to what the autism actually is.

My posts all pertain to my personal experiences with my son.  I have no experience with children who are profoundly affected or with multiple disabilities that include autism.  When I post a story here, it comes from my heart but I am speaking about one person – my son.  I am not an expert in autism – I’m a fairly decent expert on my son.

My son’s place on the spectrum is difficulty in use of language, socialization, and sensory processing.  Intellectually, he is above average compared to children his own age regardless of disability.  For example, he can already perform basic math equations and he reads at the level of a child 3-4 years older.  He will be 5 years old at the end of May.  He can answer questions like 6+3 but he does not know why the answer is 9. He can read.  An example?  I just called him over and he read this:

The only word he had trouble with?  No, not trampoline.  The word “her”.  He can read it – but he cannot form the sentences as easily as he can read them.

Sometimes, I’m pushy with my son.  If I think he can do more – I will force him to try.  Very often, when I want him to make progress, I force him to struggle his way through it without my help.  I feel an overwhelming desire to intervene every time, but I don’t.  If he is on the brink of mastering some skill, I will ignore his pleas for help after telling him he can do it.   I test his boundaries every day.

It’s not like I’m taking training wheels off his bike. It’s simple things like brushing his teeth.  A couple months ago, it was really hell to get his teeth brushed at all because of the sensory overload to his mouth.  He would pull on my arm and push me away, yell, close his mouth and cry.  He would fake brush his own teeth.  You would think I was performing dental surgery from his reaction when I was using a baby toothbrush!

After the ABA therapists worked with him, he lets me brush his teeth, gently.  There is a whole magic spell to get through it without bad behavior. First, I must tell him what I’m planning to do. I have to use the exact correct title.  In this case, “It’s time to brush our teeth!”  There’s a whole confident, positive, yet stern tone of voice that must accompany this “command”.  It works.  He will follow me into the bathroom, stand on his little Diego stool and look in the mirror.

It’s still me doing the brushing.  In order to get him to open his mouth, I have to say the magic words.  “Say ahhh”.  Then, I have to count the brush strokes in any given area I am brushing.  If I go beyond eight strokes he will shut down.

But like I said, I’m pushy.  So every day, I try and get in there more and more and up the number of strokes.  Almost every day he protests and ends up pushing me away.  There are a few days that I get further without a push or shove. This just encourages me to expand that, oh- so-tiny boundary.  Next, I will be giving him back the brush (he had it before ABA intervened but just did a terribly lame job of it then).

If I am reading him a story, and he chimes in, I push him to read more.  If he asks about a food that he’s never eaten, I push him to try it. (Mostly, I get nowhere with the food). And when I say push, there is always resistance.  Like any child with anything new, there is a certain amount of persuasion involved.

For my little ASD boy, there is a lot more persuasion involved.  Usually, there is crying, yelling and pushing away involved.  Yet, I persist.  This does not always work in my favor.  A lot of times, it results in a meltdown. And my will to force him concedes to his will to resist or comprehend.

Is this good or not?  Here’s the thing.  I know my son has a disability.  I know there are boundaries.  Where those boundaries are is not clear to me.  What if I don’t push and if I did, I could give him ever so slightly a little bit of independence each time?  I want him to achieve as much independence as is possible for his future.  This is the best thing any parent can try to achieve for a child.

So I when I venture into foreign territory, sometimes I push him us right into a dead end.  He cries and screams and generally is upset for a couple minutes to 2 hours at a time.  Then, I give in and help him.   Sometimes, it’s something like putting on his own seatbelt or shoes.  Sometimes, it’s putting together a puzzle or answering a question in a video game.  Sometimes, it’s learning a new word or concept or writing his name.

Little things lead to bigger things.  My push muscles get stronger.  His resistance has been less.  We’re getting somewhere, albeit slowly.  I see no reason to stop pushing.  Do you?


About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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30 Responses to Pushing.

  1. Kelly says:

    I, too, am a pusher. Although my son is decidedly not advanced for his age Nd has many, many confounding issues, I push. We didn’t take these boys to have them settle for less than their full potential – whatever that is. If Ted is destined to bag groceries, then BY GOD, I want him to be the best dang bagged you have ever had. If, GOD WILLING, he can do better, than I will be there pushing him to do his best. It is really hard. He has teenage-itis. No ambition, no drive, no want to do anything, to learn new skills, to improve. That is probably the thing I have most problems with, with respect to his “disability.” it makes me insane.

  2. Flannery says:

    I think we all push our kids, that’s just what moms do. Mine definitely has his limits, and will dig his feet in when he doesn’t want to do something. Sometimes I have to be devious and gain compliance in other ways. It’s our job. I’ve told my son that my job as a mom is to keep him safe, help him grow, and teach him, and nothing will stop me from doing my job. He actually seems to get it when I explain it that way.

  3. Jackie says:

    Go for it, my parents always encouraged me to learn, to push my own boundaries, to explore. And yes, I have Asperger’s too but sadly didn’t know until recently.
    I know where my limits are.. and I will push right up to them. Pushing beyond can mean paying a price in pain. But its worth well worth it in the end.

    Love your blog by the way. 🙂

  4. Jenny says:

    It is so hard for me, a people-pleaser to keep pushing! Thank you for your encouragement to keep trying. I needed this today. Did some pushing of my own and had some small meltdowns. Today, I did win, though. 🙂 There’s a victory for both of us!

    • solodialogue says:

      Yay! Every victory is a big one! When you want to please others, it is difficult to push. I know. Knowing when and how is the trick. Let me know if you figure it out first! 🙂

  5. Grace says:

    I’m the opposite. I just want my son to be happy, and he gets pushed all day at school, so when we’re at home I generally just let him be. I provide assistance when he needs it, like with teeth brushing, because my son’s mouth is our dentist’s worst nightmare and we’ve already had SERIOUS dental issues, so it must be done correctly. I usually have to trick or bribe him with homework, but amazingly he does what he needs to do most of the time when the reward is sufficiently motivational.

    I wonder sometimes if I should be more like you and push harder. Who knows.

    • solodialogue says:

      You know, I just don’t know the right answer. I had friends in school whose moms never pushed them and they were so responsible – much more than I ever was with a really pushy Asian mom. It is probably just a matter of the child. Your son is 7 and probably way more mature than my 4 year old. Maybe when my son is 7, he will be more like Ryan and I won’t feel the need to push. Who does know, really?

  6. Lizbeth says:

    I think there is a delicate balance here—as parents we do what we think is best for our child. I do what’s best based on the circumstances. I know when my son needs to be pushed and when I need to back off. I know he has a disability and I work with it and challenge him to be the best he can be.

    It sounds like you have that balance figured out and are doing an excellent job of it.

    • solodialogue says:

      Thanks Lizbeth. I feel like I do know my son but I’m still so unsure when to back off and when to push him to exceed a boundary. I’m pretty sure he will be telling me with his words pretty soon though! Then, maybe I’ll know he’s feeling pushed anyway even if I still don’t know whether I should let it be!

  7. C... says:

    I push my son all the time to try harder but I always tell him to ask for help when he is ready to lose it or have a meltdown. The problem with my Aspie is he wants to do everything perfectly so asking for help is equal to giving up and not doing it himself which leads to massive meltdowns. I still have trouble getting him to brush his teeth as well. Very frustrating but he does it on his own it just has to be the same flavor Spongebob toothpaste and he won’t try anything else so when the dentist has to use some flavored paste, polish, floss or otherwise he loses it because the taste is too much. Sigh.

    • solodialogue says:

      In a way, having a problem like that is amazing because he pushes himself. Of course, you don’t want him to push himself too hard! What a delicate balance it is to get to for us. I was thinking when my son can use words better to communicate, I might get some more valuable feedback and I’m sure that’s true. What I’m not sure of is whether he could possibly know his own limits any better than I do when he is able to communicate! Thanks for making me think, Claudia!

  8. OK, I don’t know very many children with autism either, but WOW- that’s really awesome that he can read and do math problems already.

    At the same time, I know the social and sensory issues can be so difficult and discouraging. The whole balance between pushing vs. overwhelming that Lizbeth mentioned is something we talked about in my college education classes (I was a teacher before becoming a stay-at-home mom). It sounds like things are going well- I’d say keep doing what you’re doing!

    • solodialogue says:

      Don’t be too impressed, Christy. The reading thing is pretty cool but the math is just a varied form of scripting. I guess if he is scripting it’s better that he recites correct answers to math problems than lines from Spongebob.

      The balance is the key, isn’t it? Cool to know you were a teacher before. I may have to ask you things from time to time… 🙂

  9. Tam says:

    I think that pushing is very important. I think the point where you’re going to far, is the point where your child starts seeing you as an aggressor or a drill sergeant instead of a loving parent.

    If someone can ask the child (when calm) “how does Mommy feel about you?” and the immediate answer would be “Mommy loves me!” then the mom’s still good (barring any speech/processing issues that would prevent a question/answer session like that). If the answer would be more like “I don’t know” or “well, she’s always yelling at me” then the mom’s probably gone too far.

    I imagine your son’s answer would be pretty immediately in the affirmative 🙂

    • solodialogue says:

      You totally get this, Tam! I love how you are able to go straight to what I’m thinking. I wonder where that line is that is too far? I know that he’ll tell me when I get there.

      Thanks for the kind words. They are very much appreciated. 🙂

      • Tam says:

        I imagine the line is different for every kid, and in different places at different times… which makes the whole parenting thing insanely difficult.

        I think it’s important to sit down with a kid every once in a while (on a good day, when they’re in a good mood and things are laid back and going well) and just ask some of the tough questions. Start with “you know Mommy loves you, right?” and move on to questions like “are you happy today?” and then general questions about how they feel about their life in general.

        Of course the conversation can go better with older children with good communication skills and longer attention spans, but it works with really little kids too, adapted. I do this with each of my nieces & nephews from time to time… have for years now… It’s amazes me some of the conversations I’ve had over the years, and they feel safe talking to me about some of the bigger issues as they grow older.

  10. Susan says:

    I have always pushed too and so glad I have as C is now 14 and doing really well. There is a big difference in “pushing” and “being pushy”. Pushing is encouraging them to do their best, I have done that with all my children, not just C.

    C was diagnosed in Edinburgh by a consultant and his diagnosis was ” High Functioning Autism” I asked if this was the same as Asperger’s and she explained the differences from her point of view. She said children with Asperger’s want to make friends and talk to people but do it in an inappropriate way, eg, when someone greets them they will launch into a topic that interests them without being able to read the signals the other person gives off…interest etc.
    She said children with high functioning autism are very similar to asperger’s but are more withdrawn,..eg, not wanting to talk to people who approach them.

    Hope you know what I am trying to say with all that. I am aware that there is a lot of disagreement between professionals and other people on this matter and may be different in the UK.

    Great post as usual xx

    • solodialogue says:

      Thanks so much Susan. I find it very interesting that a professional gave such a definite distinction between the two. Maybe it is different in the UK because here, I could not find anything other than the repeated mantra that there is no medically accepted definition of high functioning autism. By the definition you were given, my son still falls into HF ASD as he does not want to talk to people who approach him. I like your definition of pushing versus being pushy!

  11. Penny says:

    I think you are a wonderful mother, and very wise. No one knows a child, better then his “mom”, you know how far to push him-but its good to let him figure things out for himself. All children are beautiful, each having their purpose inlife and knowing their limits. Great job !!

  12. Heather says:

    There really is such a fine line. I feel like I push a lot, but like some of the posters above, I also think when is there time for him to “just be”. It’s hard finding that line and I always either feel like I’m pushing too much or I’m being too slack. Hard to find that happy medium.

    But you do know that pushing you do is what is making all the positive changes- he’s lucky to have such a great mom 🙂

    • solodialogue says:

      Aww, Heather, you are too sweet! I wish there was a manual that would tell us where that line is but we just have to step over it a few times to learn, I guess. We’re all pretty good mamas learning from each other, don’t you think? 🙂

  13. jnettlee says:

    Your little guy and Gavin are nearly identical in their functioning and place on the spectrum. I know Gavin will be reading before the year is out. He already reads 3-4 letter words and ATTEMPTS to read everything… every sign, every poster. He also can WRITE most 4 letter words, including his name. However, like yours, he has all thecommunication and interaction and sensory issues. Brushing teeth.. you nailed it. And so many more. Hair washing,
    haircuts, Dr. visits… omg..a nightmare! Will NOT let the doc touch him, measure his height, weight, much less place a BP cuff on his arm or even place a stethoscope on his chest. No way.
    I have no answers to where those boundaries are or if it’s correct to “push”… we do what we think is best. And like you, if it works in the end and he gains another ounce of independence, then it is worth the meltdowns.

    I’d love to ask an ASD adult these questions and get their input, wouldn’t you? How much is too much? Should we keep pushing? Is there a better way to achieve the same results?

    Thanx for the thought provoking questions, Karen. So much to learn… always.
    Perhaps you can give us some successful tips on potty training? 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • solodialogue says:

      You know, Jeanette, it’s funny you say this because Laura over at Life in the House Asperger Built is having Ask an Aspie Fridays where we can submit questions and get answers from many people who know! Laura is wonderful – you should check her out!

      Gavin’s sensitivities are a lot like my little guy’s. Hairwashing and doctor visits especially!! How about the light for the ears?!

      For potty training tips – we are only halfway there. #1 is fairly controlled. #2 is not. At all. ABA has been the biggest help. Does Gavin have behavioral therapy? Those people are wonderful!

  14. eof737 says:

    Like you said, little things lead to bigger ones and that is the progress I hear you describe. Often we torture ourselves about the decisions we make for our children, but hey, women are intuitive and we always try to do the best we can for our kids… It’s all good. 🙂

  15. Jen says:

    We are a lot alike in this. I push Katie all the time. I’ve blogged about it. I am not going to sit back and make up boundaries in my head…I can’t. I loved reading this…I like knowing I am not a total mean mommy! Or at least not the only one out there…haha!

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