As the parent of a child with ASD, I need patience. Lots and lots of patience. And understanding – let’s not forget understanding. I have to learn to use and exercise both of these concepts and know when to let things go.
A lot of what goes on in my house is inexplicable unless you walk in my shoes. There are times when my son’s sensory needs or capacities can become overloaded without me ever realizing something is building up inside him. There are times when he cannot verbalize the impending dark clouds that surround him. And, while I know a lot of the triggers that can cause him pain and discomfort, there are other times when I am oblivious.
There are so many triggers in our world. He can be upset by changes in routine or the temperature of a room. He can be feeling sick and unable to express that. There can be one toy he played with at age two that, today, three and a half years later, he cannot find. He can have a toy with dead batteries or a missing part to a game.
Triggers are often camouflaged as day to day actions, words, situations and events. Background voices in a crowded store. A flashing light or clothing in the “wrong” color. If I say the words, “as soon as…” (which I say every day not meaning to) or “You have to wait your turn” or if someone runs into me and wants to chat.
When I am oblivious to the cause, all of a sudden, when it is far too late, he will let me know in a huge way. He will scream. He will yell. He will shout out colors. No words of comfort, no objects, no discipline, no rewards will stop the inevitable, brakeless, downpour of crying, screaming, running, flailing and panic stricken looks and actions that will come raining down on me and anyone in his path.
Even if I see the dark clouds gathering and try to extricate myself from a social situation to attend to his needs, or recognize that he is caught up in labeling objects by color, and try to extricate him from a situation, it may be too late, and the inevitable occurs, regardless of what I do.
Sometimes he will implode. Sometimes, he will pull and tug and yell at me if I am talking to someone I have not seen in a while. He will not wait. Is this ASD or is this a child attempting to control his mom? Or is it both? Should I discipline? Should I give in? I do my best in figuring it out. Do I always get it right? Not hardly. But I try.
I’ve been told that part of the reason my son lacks patience is that, because of his autism, he has no concept of time and does not get the “wait” involved. I don’t feel that this explanation is complete. And I do not think this explanation gives my son enough credit.
My son knows how to set a timer and knows how long his nebulizer treatments take. He knows I set the timer to five minutes for his time outs and 12 minutes for the nebulizer. He can make it through those events just fine. I’m thinking the lack of patience comes more from the lack of a clear definite rules to which he can refer in knowing how long a line will take or how much time will pass before he has control. If that is his issue, then it is mine as well. If I am sitting in a traffic jam with no understanding of what is causing it and no way of knowing how far down the road it ends, I have very little patience as well.
If I was unable to find the words to express what I was going through, what I needed, what it was that was causing me pain or aggravation, I would be frustrated, anxious, and angry. There are many days that my son is unable to tell me what he feels. Sometimes, when I try to understand, I can and I do. Sometimes, I come up empty. It’s kind of like when I edit my own papers. Sometimes, I can see the mistakes. Other times, I need another pair of eyes to correct things I have missed.
Patience and understanding are such important tools for both my son and for me. Is it ironic that before my son came along I had little of the former and a superficial use of the latter? While I work toward patience, I will continue to make mistakes. I will learn from those mistakes and, I hope, increase my patience. Maybe my son will pick up some of that as well. Patience, by definition, will decrease anxiety. In my own experience, patience can be elusive. I’ve found that it does not, on it’s own, battle well against frustration. Patience needs will to prevail. I hope I can remember that.