Your child with autism is only 6. Yet he has you entwined around his little finger.
He lies down on the floor in the supermarket when he wants something. He screams uncontrollably. He pulls your hair so badly that you want to scream.
You feel terrible. The world judges you constantly. You can literally hear them whispering, “Doesn’t she know how to bring up her child?”
Sometimes, you think they’re right. You’re always in a dilemma. You don’t know how to handle him. Should you be firm or should you fulfill every demand of his?
You feel you’re walking on eggshells. His behavior gets worse by the day.
Your spouse doesn’t understand why and neither does the rest of your family. Your in-laws don’t hesitate to taunt you. “You’ve spoilt your child.” When you try setting a limit, your husband says, ‘You’re too strict with him.”
Should you set a limit? You’ve been unsuccessful so far. You’ve tried intermittently but things get worse.
My dear friend. I’ve been where you are. The behaviors, the inconsistency, the taunts – I’ve seen and heard them all.
The good news is the current circumstances can be reversed. You can take charge of your life. Things will get better.
Yes, your child has sensory difficulties, does not communicate effectively, and is frustrated.
But if you step back, you will see a pattern in his behavior and your response. Become aware of this pattern and start setting limits.
Here are 5 pointers you should follow to set limits in your child’s life and make him emotionally and behaviorally more resilient and well adjusted:
Be specific when you set limits.
For example: It’s lunch time and he’s playing on his iPad. You’ve asked him to come to the table. He starts crying loudly.
Instead of saying “Stop behaving badly,” say “It’s lunch time. It’s time to put your iPad away.”
If your child is distracted by a particular toy during a framework or activity, take it away gently and redirect him to what you’re doing together.
If your child grabs food, gently teach him how to serve a favorite snack in his bowl, sit down and eat that instead.
We tend to tell our children what ‘not’ to do. It’s essential to tell them what they can do instead as well.
It will take time. It might appear in the first few instances like he’s not listening. But he’s absorbing everything. One fine day, he’ll surprise you with his remarkable understanding.
Remember: Things will get worse before they get better. Stay calm through it all, and you’ll achieve your goal.
Every child should hear a ‘no’, and every parent should be able to say it.
Your child wants you take him for a drive when you’ve come home exhausted. But you just want to have dinner and unwind.
It’s okay to say ‘no’.
He might cry and get irritated with you. That’s fine too. If you give in to this, he will expect this every night.
It might appear okay for now. But imagine him as a 20 year old, pushing you to take him for a drive. He will stand taller and stronger than you.
Learn to say ‘no’ when he’s little. Your life will be much easier. Also, as mentioned in point 1, give him a valid reason for it.
It requires all your will power to stick with your decision. If you don’t, you’ll shape a worse behavior.
He’ll learn that if he cries loud and hard enough, you’ll give in anyway.
It’s important for both partners to be on the same page. Or else your child will play one up against the other.
It happens with neuro-typical kids all the time.
When she was young, Tanya would ask me if she could stay out late. If I said, ‘no’, she would ask Anil.
If Anil said ‘yes,’ she would have her way. And she had succeeded in playing us up against each other.
After burning our fingers a couple of times, we learned to check with each other before responding.
Children with autism do the exact same thing. If you want to be an effective parent, you both have to be on the same page.
Setting limits is different from forced compliance.
You don’t want to force the child to sit, stand, forcefully complete a puzzle etc. Set a boundary for your child, but don’t dictate everything he can and cannot do.
For example, I set a limit that a child does not leaving the room when we’re working together. But I don’t force compliance.
If we’re solving a puzzle together, I let the child know that he cannot leave the room. But I don’t force him on a chair or to pick up a piece and put it in.
If he goes to the door, I gently hold his forearm and bring him back. I continue being invitational. It will take time, but the child makes a decision to join in.
Limit setting is not about forced compliance.
You don’t have to respond to the ‘verbal bait’ your child throws at you. Stay in your zone of calmness and composure.
Your child may invite you to a verbal battle. To respond is your prerogative.
I respond once and then redirect.
Many years ago, I had a student who would ask, “Tell me one good reason I should do this.”
Initially, I was awed by her speaking abilities. I would respond with a meaningful answer.
But over time, I realized she used this sentence in every situation and wasn’t looking for an answer.
I was her Math teacher. So I learned to redirect her back to work without getting into a battle.
I did not let her take me to Guam! I didn’t let her ruffle me.
Setting limits will benefit your child massively. It leads to physical and emotional regulation. Your child will be calmer. He will enjoy better relationships with you.
Practice will make you perfect. Then it will become second nature to you. Your spouse and rest of the family will see the difference and will want to follow what you’re doing too! Your child’s relation with your spouse and other family members will improve too. Your family will be happy and well connected.
Remember: Just because your child has special needs doesn’t mean that you can’t set limits. Your parenting duties don’t end because of his different abilities.
Imagine a full life, where you don’t need to worry about stepping on eggshells. You can be surefooted, empowered and be an example parent. Don’t let autism’s co-occurring conditions come in the way of your family’s happiness.
What are your biggest challenges while setting limits for your child? Do leave a comment and I’ll help you the best I can.