In traffic. At the gas station and the coffee shop. For the restroom. At the supermarket. To ride the merry-go-round. To go down the slide. To swing. To get a “Happy Meal”. To purchase anything, anywhere.
Whenever I take my son out in public, we inevitably end up in a line. This is not good. Lines are one of the most stressful aspects of living with autism. I really never paid attention to the number of lines I stood in before my son was born. Now, I notice them all. More importantly, I’ve learned to cut down on my need to stand, sit, drive-through or otherwise become involved in anything that remotely resembles a line.
Let me put it this way:
Line = Meltdown
I used to think the little prince simply did not wish to wait his turn. Then, I found out I was not alone. Over time, I’ve learned, from a lot of people that it’s not the wait alone that causes the severe reaction. It’s the fact that he does not know how long the line will take nor the reason why he must wait in it.
It’s a strange thing, the line phenomenon. We will be driving along and suddenly end up in a traffic jam. “G-O spells go!! Go!!” my son will tell me. I will advise him to look ahead at traffic and that I have no where to go. He does not care. He wants to go and he will irrationally demand that the traffic jam get out of his way. He makes it loud. I’m sure that’s just to assure I have heard him. He will continue to make his discontent known to me for the duration of our immobility.
If we make it out of the traffic jam and all is content, I’ve usually come close to running out of gas. As I drive a mammoth SUV that devours fuel, I can usually make it one full day before having to buy another $50 worth. I do like to purchase other luxuries like food and toilet paper, however, so I try to buy gas at the cheapest location. I am not alone. Literally. So, naturally, there is always a line.
It’s never an orderly line. It’s more akin to musical gas pumps. Unless you can maneuver your vehicle around the row of cars in a narrow space and parallel park in a couple moves, someone else in a Mini Cooper or a Smartcar will zip in front of you and take the pump you’ve been waiting 15 minutes to use. With my SUV, I am not the quickest driver and usually end up waiting twice as long. You think this pisses me off? I try to remain calm. But, there is a little guy who is twice as p.o.’ed about yet another delay. He begins anxiously questioning me about where we are going. When I answer by telling him where we will go next, he then begins demanding the next location. Loudly and repeatedly.
Our next stop on a casual weekend is the coffee shop. Sometimes, if I get there in an off moment, I can completely avoid a line. Times like those feel like luxurious moments to me. Even though I still have to make sure the little guy does not knock over a display, try to go behind the counter to work, or wander away altogether, it is still beyond preferable to hitting the coffee shop when there is a long line that is met with a loud, “Fire truck!” yell by my son, and the usual stares and weird looks at me.
It’s all a matter of patience. Lines for purchases, entertainment, food, and necessities like gas are just part of life. My son has no patience for any of that. While I know that some people with ASD say they can handle the lines if they know how long they have to wait, this method does not work for us. ABA is trying to work through behaviors in line by positively reinforcing my son with candy when he makes it every 30 seconds to a minute without behaviors. This is a “work in progress” and has not transferred over to the times I am with him alone.
I’ve Googled and read but I really see very few direct discussions of tips for teaching patience to your autistic child. Most articles are about the parents’ challenges maintaining patience with their autistic children! I’m pretty sure we have no choice but to be patient so that kind of struck me as a oddity for the frequency with which it popped up as a search result.
My best results in teaching patience to my son have been where I did use a candy reinforcer and gave him my iPhone to play with while waiting. This is about a 65% success rate in waiting through a line no longer than 5-10 minutes. If it’s longer than that, the pre-cursers to a meltdown begin. When that happens, I usually leave the line, work through the behaviors with commands and praise and start over on the line (or, if we are running late, leave).
And those are the only solutions I’ve come up with so far – other than simply avoiding the whole situation and that will resolve nothing. So, this time, I’m hoping you can give me suggestions for teaching my son some patience. Any tips?