How to Understand Your Autistic Child’s ‘Resistance’
I had an unfortunate ‘fall’ last month. Stepping out for a walk post 8 pm on a rainy evening, wasn’t a great idea, I guess.
I didn’t notice the pothole in front of me. Stepping into it, I lost balance and landed on all fours.
Luckily, help was close by. A watchman of the adjacent building came to my rescue, helped me up (I couldn’t stand by myself) and put me in a chair. Till Anil (husband) drove down and took me home.
Well, the pain lasted a few days. Luckily the x ray showed ‘no fracture and no damage to the soft tissues.’
However, the persistent pain over 2 weeks forced me to visit a physiotherapist. She checked me out and in the examination I noticed she was massaging my calf muscle- 2 inches below the side of my knee. I screamed in excruciating pain. “Why is it hurting here?” I asked. “I injured my ankle.” She explained how my calf muscle went into spasm to protect my ankle, as my body took the fall.
“It’s a defence mechanism the body employs to protect itself.”
After the excruciating massage, she asked me to walk. Wonder of wonders, my ankle felt much freer!
Why am I sharing this with you? Because I applied this analogy to my students.
Think of your child (or adult) for a moment.
Perhaps your child resisted going to school by having a tantrum every morning because she didn’t want to feel like a failure She didn’t feel competent or confident.
In the past someone laughed at her at school and called her ‘weird.’ Or another child didn’t want to play with her?
Or she resisted playing with other children because she felt overwhelmed and didn’t understand social cues?
Was she punished for doing something at class and didn’t want to go through that again?
Your child was protecting herself.
Your child ended up screaming in a new situation where there were many guests around.
Perhaps your child resisted entering a new situation by screaming and shouting, because she didn’t feel comfortable in the situation?
It could be that she didn’t know how to initiate an interaction. Or she didn’t know how to keep an interaction going.
She’s got thrown by the novelty and adaptability is not her forte.
She may be extra sensitive. This situation could be overwhelming and she wanted to leave as soon as possible.
Again, she was just protecting herself .
Resistance is a defence mechanism. Don’t just look at it as a behavior issue. Consider it to be a messenger, instead.
Then go ahead and take actions to support your child. Work on making your child feel competent.
1. Start off with the easiest entry point
Give yourself a role too. Be actively engaged. Move away from instruction. Play ball with your child. Dance with her, cook or bake something together.
2. Add challenge systematically
Build it up step by step. Look for your child’s competence before you add challenge. It may take time, but layer it on slowly. Be well paced.
3. Support as needed
Help your child with the skill if necessary. The support should be just right. Slowly you can fade support as your child starts doing well. Come from a place of respect for your child. Presume competence- always.
4. Encode this competence for your child
It’s about your child feeling good. It’s about her recognizing how good she actually is. Take pictures as your child feels accomplished or take short selfie videos to help your child understand how good she is at accomplishing tasks, keeping up with you, thinking and problem solving etc.
Systematically chip away at the resistance by working closely with your child. Once your child feels competent with you, this will transfer to others as well.
Your biggest bonus will be the development of Intrinsic motivation. Your child will be motivated to engage instead of resisting.
It’s a month and a half after my ankle sprain now. I’ve kept up with balance exercises and calf raises and stretches to support my ankle. We’re doing just fine.
I’ve also started working with a nutritionist to help me eat right, be strong and reduce susceptibility to injuries.
For your child, it’s much more than speech and langauge or behavior. Take a wholistic view. Support your child from all angles. You will find relief and so will your child.
Read the resistance for what it is. It will put you on the same page with your child. Continue to work on it systematically to make your child feel competent. Then nothing can prove to be a barrier for your child.
It’s time to breakthrough!
Feel free to send your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or post in the comments section below.
Kamini Lakhani is the founder and director of SAI Connections. She has been providing services in the field of autism for more than 25 years and is the authorized director of Professional Training for RDI in India and the Middle East. She is also the mother of a young adult with autism.