Some Things Are Unacceptable

7 06 2013

Yesterday I had the opportunity to meet two young teens with autism and their parents. Both boys were very friendly, engaging, funny! But…

Although both of these young men are more verbal than my son and both have better coordination, they are both are allowed to use autism as an out. Their families make excuses for them and accept things that society finds unacceptable.

One of these teens has hygiene issues. His grandmother, who he lives with, is frustrated and wants him to bathe, brush his teeth, stop picking at his pimples… but, “he has sensory issues” so he “can’t”.

The other teen interrupts constantly, is physically aggressive (because he doesn’t know his strength not because he’s mean or an intentional bully)… but, he has autism and “can’t control it”.

Disclaimer: I am just a mom. Every child with autism is an individual. I’m telling you what works for us– not making recommendations for your kid.

There is no “can’t”. There are accommodations, modifications. There is creativity and patience. Whether we like it or not, people with autism have to live in a world that is uncomfortable and unforgiving.

hygiene: Sensory issues do make it difficult… how do you get a child who gags when a toothbrush is put in their mouth, to brush his teeth? How do you get a kid who has poor self-control to not interrupt? We’ve done it slowly, consistently and creatively.

J used to gag with a regular toothbrush– so we used the baby toothpaste and brush for years (you know the kind– they’re usually blue, soft rubber bristles, fits over your finger like the finger of a glove). When he discovered Sponge Bob (around age 7-8) he made the switch to a little kid Sponge Bob toothbrush and toothpaste. Finally, at age 13 (when being a teenager was a big deal to him) he switched to a tween toothbrush and matching toothpaste– mild mint.  We used his interests and peer pressure to get it done. It’s taken 13 years– but he’s done it!

We’re still not “done.” J hates falling water so showers are out of the question for now– but, baths aren’t. Puberty is already here and swim team is coming this fall so he’s going to have to learn to take a shower this summer.

Lotion, ointment etc. don’t feel good to him– but, girls don’t like zits… and Stridex isn’t a cream. We’re still working on deodorant… haven’t found the right smell yet but we’re working on it. He doesn’t consistently use shampoo but we have an ongoing deal that he can keep his hair long if he keeps it clean so the threat of a haircut usually gets it done. He chooses the lesser of two evils.

Manners: This has always been a big deal in our home. We stress treating people the way we want others to treat us, we say please and thank you. We ask rather than demand. We do not interrupt.

When J was younger we used to stop the conversation and teach him the right way to get attention (“excuse me”, wait to be addressed, ask your question or make your comment) and praise him before returning to the conversation. From there, we would just say “manners” and continue our conversation until he did it appropriately and now, the raised eyebrows do the trick. It’s not a mastered skill but the frequency of interruption is so reduced that it’s not an issue anymore. Please is required to get what he wants. Thank you is required before moving on.

These skills will keep him out of trouble. Polite people do get what they need more often than the rude or demanding. It helps us value others and shows respect for them. Teachers, therapists, secretaries,  cashiers, lifeguards and peers respond much better to polite people. Having good manners helps people forgive the bad days as out of character rather than something  that is punishment-worthy.

I know I’m oversimplifying things here. But, the mentality of “can’t” because of autism is what dooms kids with autism to a life without reaching their own maximum potential. Life can be very uncomfortable for those with– or without autism– but, if we use it as an excuse, if we let our kids accept that they “can’t” then they won’t… And, that’s unacceptable!

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One response

7 06 2013
servantofcharity

Your methods are definitely worthy of sharing. Thank you for sharing your successes. It can only be encouraging for those struggling or making excuses, maybe they don’t even realize they are doing it. Keep up the good work, Mom!

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