I read somewhere that when parenting, bribes are a bad idea, used only by desperate parents. Okay, BUT all parents bribe their children from time to time...right??
C'mon, I know i’m not the only one! :)
I'm an autistic parent and I don't know how I'd survive without bribing my son - I HAVE to do it all the time.
I don't like to think of it as bribes though, I prefer to think of it as incentives.
It’s basically what “first/then” is based on!
First you eat that fruit or vegetable, THEN you can get your favourite cereal,
FIRST you have a bath and THEN you can play Sonic on the play station,
FIRST you do your homework THEN you can go to the supermarket.
For the longest while I've been trying to get my twelve year old son to stay in his bed all night and nothing's been working - true story. So once again A couple days ago, i put on my bribing incentive hat and started saying this to him at bed time:
"FIRST you go to bed and stay in your bed all night, no waking up in the middle of the night to go to mommy and daddy's room, THEN you can get a mug treat to carry to school for snack time." ( I know I know the grams of sugar alone yikes! #badmom but he's been nagging me for it so I decided to use it to motivate him to do what I want duh?! #autismmom101)
1st Night....no luck, he still came in our room. He thinks he so slick too packing his favourite mug treat in his lunch bag the morning after! But I said to him "oh no buddy you never did what you were supposed to do...no mug treat for you!" #sorrynotsorry "You know what you have to do".
2nd Night...same as above.
3rd Night...SUCCESS SUCCESS SUCCESS and we made a big deal out of it...because that's what we do right? ABA 101, reward the behaviours we want repeated?? Right? All we really want is to be able to sleep comfortably in our bed - it is our bed for crying out loud.
So why do "experts" think it's a no-no, that it's bad? Why are they trying to make me feel like a bad parent for bribing my kiddo?
Here are some reasons given by the experts:
1. Children shouldn't be "rewarded" for behaviour they should do anyway.
2. When kids get older, they won't get rewards for doing what they're supposed to do.
3. When children are rewarded for a desired behaviour they actually do less of the behaviour.
4. When children get used to constant rewards for doing what we ask, we're training them that the reason to do what we ask is because they'll "get" something.
ehrrrrmmm Okay all true generally...but here's the thing my child has autism...my child is atypical. He actually won't do the preferred behaviour unless he IS reworded. But let's face it all of us need a little incentive to do the right thing and give up the things we really want...sometimes...right?
Bottom line? My son has autism and will continue to have autism when he's fifty. So I have to do what I have to do, and if that means bribing or giving appropriate incentives then I will continue to do it. Once the preferred behaviour is established I know how to start backing off. It's part of the autism parent DNA or rather what we’ve been taught and as far as my child is concerned, incentives motivate him so once I'm being smart about it and using my discretion and mom's intuition, all will be well - I have no doubt!
Ps: we are still working on that preferred behaviour , this momma’s still out here bribing sighhhhhh....fingers crossed he'll start staying in his bed all night soon!
Autism & Exercise
to exercise or not to exercise...
"Movement is a medicine for creating change in a person's physical, emotional and mental states."
Children need to exercise and we should encourage them to do so. Children with autism though may need a bit more encouragement unless it's something they're passionate about.
I've done some reading and apparently vigorous activity helps manage behaviours, such as hyperactivity in children with autism. It also helps children engage more in the environment, along with the usual benefit of promoting good health overall...and that's what we want right?
But here’s the thing with my son, unless it includes swimming or dancing and jumping up and down to music, he's usually not interested in exercising, sports or any other physical activity.
He recently surprised me though....and he does that a lot, by the way. 😄
I had decided to go on my treadmill, and while I was on it he came over and asked me if he could have a turn... In my head I danced and I screamed "YASSSS!” but in actuality I responded “of course you can!”
I jumped on that very spontaneous request and interest, asked him to put on his sneakers and taught him how to use the treadmill.
It was an amazing feeling watching him walk on that treadmill, working out the balance, attempting to let go of the handles.
Now that I know he is interested, even if it's only a slight interest, my plan is to use that interest to encourage more physical activity. I’ve found that when I do that it makes things so much easier because my son is motivated to do what I’m telling him to do.
But even though he's motivated and excited and now therefore I am, I have to stay calm, I have to plan properly and remind myself that he may lose interest. My role here is not to be an overzealous personal trainer, my role here is to be mom, to stay calm and promote a safe environment for my son and as with anything I’m introducing for the first time I have to be supportive and positive and always always use encouraging words.
So here’s our summer exercise plan:
We’ll continue exploring the treadmill, increasing speed and incline when he’s comfortable and then we’ll add these exercises:
1. Jumping Jacks
2. Star jumps
3. Bear claws annnnnd
4. Burpees....nah I’m just kidding why would I inflict such torture on my son! 🤣
We’ll definitely start off slowly, maybe only five reps per exercise but the most important thing is that it will be fun at all times...no pressure whatsoever. I want him to love exercise and I want it to be a part of his daily routine because I strongly believe that being active could improve his coping skills, and definitely enhance his overall quality of life.
Do you have any specific goals for your children this summer? If you do, stay strong, and GOOD LUCK!
Discovering your children
“...I have no desire to foresee you. You can’t disappoint me.”
That’s some serious unconditional love right there. How many of us parents can honestly say we feel this way all the time when we think about our children and their future? I’ll be honest, I haven’t always felt this way,
I am a worry wort...I want what’s best for them but also my pride weighs in. There are times I want to boast about all that’s good in my eyes but when it’s not great, when they’re not doing what we want them
to do or being how we want them to be we’re disappointed right? Haven’t we ALL been there?
Of course we want the best for our children...but is it more that we want what’s best for us? So preoccupied and invested in what they will be, what we want them to be so we can show off. Our expectations are set really high, and we expect them to be what we want.
Now don’t get me wrong expectations are great and setting them high can be a good thing and self motivating. But what if our expectations and dreams are not what our children want or what if there are circumstances which make the basic things that we hope for seem impossible? Circumstances like special needs? Circumstances like a u t i s m...
I’m a dreamer, I think a lot...and when I got pregnant I had a lot of thoughts about my first born. I always thought he’d play a sport, like football or basketball, or maybe he’d play tennis or run,. I thought that he’d be a creative, maybe an app developer, maybe get into gaming? No I wasn’t dreaming of things like law or medicine, Nah I was thinking other things and of the world and how it is right now, I had outside of the box thoughts, he was going to be an amazing creative visionary, an entrepreneur doing something big in IT or something like that....
But then a u t i s m happened - he was three when he was diagnosed.
I went through a period of mourning, letting go of all those specific dreams I had for my son...any dreams really... I had to have different expectations now. In fact I had no expectations. My dream became him just saying the word “mommy” and him being able to tell me if he wanted an apple or juice. Autism had me letting go of everything
and starting from scratch...
Autism insisted that I start from ground zero...painting a new canvas so to speak where all our plans HAD to be all about just going with that autism flow...wherever it took us. Our only duty was to embrace autism...embrace our son and follow his lead.
I've learnt to take it one day at a time, one goal at a time and really focus on what makes my son tick. Drawing on those gifts and talents I knew were just waiting to be discovered.
We discovered from early on that our son was musically talented. At first we thought only with drums, but nine years later he’s not only playing drums, but also playing a bit of piano and doing voice training...who knew he’d be doing all of that?
I certainly didn’t.
It’s exciting to watch him grow and stretch his talents and I’m extremely proud. In fact I’m over the moon and if you’re following me on Facebook and Instagram you know I’m not only raising awareness and promoting acceptance of autism but I’m also doing a whole heap of boasting as well!
So here I am dreaming again of what he may do in the future, who he may be.
I see him as a musician, some sort of multi talented superstar drummer...
BUT what if that does not happen? You know what I have to say about that?
I’ve been down this road before and I’m not going through that mourning s#%t again. I know better now. My son is my son. If he doesn't end up living MY dream (haha) and works in a music store selling music instruments and accessories, I'm one hundred percent OKAY with that. Why? Because I know he’ll be happy once music is involved- whatever it is. But most importantly he will always be MY superstar/rockstar musician....PERIOD.
These past nine years I’ve learnt that my role as a parent is to love unconditionally, no matter what. I hope you feel the same way too. So what if they’re not going to be that doctor, lawyer, accountant or whatever...there’s something out there for each of our children. Something that they were made to do, something they were brought into this world for, that will bring them joy and thereby bring you joy. That’s how it should be!
Does he really NEED to learn to read
music to play
I always thought that since he learnt to play drums naturally...by ear...why stress him out with the theory aspect of drumming? He has raw talent and loves it...why stress him out to “read music”...he doesn’t even want to read a book. I didn’t want him to hate what he loves.
BUT apparently I was getting worked up over nothing...
Apparently “reading music” for drumming is actually easier than it is for piano or guitar...the lines and spaces on the musical staff represent the parts of the drum set! Think VISUAL...if you’re an autism parent and your kiddo is a visual thinker YOU KNOW...it’s happy dance time,
it’s peasy lemon squeezy time! Well sorta...
In any event his teacher had plans...plans to challenge him, and stretch him, plans to set and achieve goals! YASSSSS! Don’t you just love that?!
But more importantly, when You sit down and really think about it...if MUSIC IS HIS LANGUAGE and he is learning it won’t he be much better off becoming musically literate as well?
Yeh I think so too.
So here I am thanking God once again for teachers who think outside the box, teachers who want to make a difference, who see the potential...who see the differences but don’t think less...in fact they think more.
The elephant in the room
Let's address the elephant in the room, shall we? No? Not ready? Ha ha, yeh me too....I don't think I will ever be. Which parent is? Puberty can be awkward and embarrassing for most people. BUT you know what? It shouldn't be - It's just BIOLOGY. Right? Right.
Puberty is no walk in the park, and for some special needs children and their parents it seems puberty is one hundred times worse, way more sensitive, exaggerated, and intense....know what I mean?
My son is almost twelve years old and I'm literally facing the elephant in the room. He was happily going along his merry pubescent way and I thought woohooo this isn’t so bad - just a lil jog in the park...I thought wow I GOT THIS...without even preparing.
Slow and steady was his pace....until summer. Summer came and BOOM another growth spurt then BOOM BOOM BOOM real, proper puberty and all the stuff that comes with it...and yes, this mama was not prepared.
Don't make the same mistake people. Be prepared, get ahead of the curve because they don’t stay young forever...EVERYBODY grows up...who knew? haha But seriously, no matter who you are, autism or no autism, puberty is inevitable. It’s the same in some ways and a little different in other ways. But the bottom line is that ALL children grow up...it is what it is. It is the great equalizer.
So what will puberty be like for my ASD child? I honestly don't know as it is different for every child...kind of like autism?! Just be prepared for the same things that happen with typical children to happen to your ASD child...I know, yikes. So how do we prepare?? i.don't.know! All I know is what I have gathered so far, and IF it can help you? Awesome.
Emotions Emotions Emotions
Get ready for some emotional outbursts, mood swings, aggression, arguing and defiance. Thankfully I haven't experienced all of that. What I have experienced is a bit of moodiness and a lot of that good old defiance. Time to get ready for school - "NO”, Time to have a bath - "NO I DON'T WANT TO". This might not seem like much but when you're used to a usually compliant child and suddenly you're getting "Nos" for everything that is a huge change. My advice? Pick your battles, and for issues that are not so important just let them go...for your sanity's sake.
Just so you know, if your child is like mine, almost twelve and still walking around with stuffed toys and blankets, still watching shows like “Thomas the Train” and “Little Einstein’s”, the same shows they watched when they were three years old, DON’T be fooled. Don't get blind sided. Don’t think they haven’t started puberty and that you have time. Nope...don't do that...trust me... it’s either right around the corner or happening right under your nose! While they might not be developing like their peers socially or emotionally, best believe they are developing physically. I’m serious...my little boy is not a child anymore. So check for those subtle signs. You've been there, you know them, and if you've forgotten, now's the time to use that awesome search engine Google to refresh your memory. Visit the paediatrician if you need to and get some guidance. Talk to your child's school, teachers and teacher/shadow assistants, have a plan in place and just mentally prepare yourself already!
So your kiddos are older now, no longer five or six...think about this for a minute. Go ahead think about it, I'll wait. Ready? Ok, now think about their peers. I know you see it...the now very noticeable development gap. As I mentioned earlier my son is still walking around with stuffed toys and watching “Thomas the Train” etc. - that and all the other differences are now glaringly obvious.
Here's the problem, as kids get older and become teens they become more socially aware. What's in, what's not, what's cool and what's definitely not. They now notice how different their special needs peers are, they might even joke about these differences, unfortunately. It's sad, but the reality is that some teens are mean. Social skills are already challenging for our children on the spectrum, but stack that mean teen on top of that and what do you end up with? 99 problems kinda problems. So what do you do? Easy, what you've already been doing - advocate advocate advocate! Continue to raise awareness and encourage kindness and acceptance in spite of differences and pray for the best. Be prepared for those bad days and BE THERE for your child...BE PRESENT.
I don't know about you but because my pre-teen is able, I'm all about encouraging independence. I'm not going to be around forever, and he needs to be able to take care of himself - so long as he is able to do so.
When he says he's had a "bath" but then he comes in close for a hug and you're all "sniff sniff gahhhh ehhhrmagadd"...Why? PUBERTY of course, it's no walk in a wonderfully smelling park. It's awkward, its confusing and yup stinky.
So what can you do? For me, right now it's just "gentle" reminders to bathe properly, PUT ON YOUR DEODORANT, brush your teeth, and put on deodorant. Did I say deodorant already? Twice? Yeah....apparently I don't say it enough, so hear I go again, put on your deodorant! Grrrr...sigh it's just, you know...those pesky hormones...you can't make them win and there’s really no need for our kiddos to be singled out because of this. These are manageable issues. Issues you can work on at home where your child is comfortable.
At some point I'll have to deal with hair growth and shaving and all the sensory issues that come with that, but not now...thank GOD. Right now that's not on my plate - small mercies!
All this growing equals non-stop eating. So just be prepared and have those hopefully healthy snacks ready for in between meals.
Those "Other" Issues
I don't need to spell it our for you. You know what I'm talking about. I wasn't planning on discussing that online with you. The plan was to just gloss over it. Because for one, that stuff is PRIVATE and maybe, just maybe my boy would cringe at the thought of me even mentioning this topic. So respecting his assumed wishes, all I'm going to say is you need to start thinking about how you will manage this issue. If your child is verbal, think about what and how to discuss it when it arises. If your child isn't verbal or only slightly verbal, think about how to actually "discuss" it with them given their verbal limitations, or if you will even be able to discuss it with them. Probably not. You will need to establish what the ground rules are, the Whens and the Wheres, i.e. when it's appropriate and when it's absolutely not, where it's appropriate and where it's absolutely not.
Bottom line? We all want to keep our kiddos safe. I have no clue what my child even understands about puberty, what is happening to him or what he is feeling BUT I want to keep him safe, so giving him skills to deal with all of this is my priority. That and praying for the best outcome and then watching over him like a hawk...that's my strategy. It's all I can do. But when I leave this earth what then, who will do this for me? This is when I start feeling overwhelmed and emotional and I have to remind myself - "one day at a time DBM, one day at a time..."
Parenting is challenging and preparing for puberty can be overwhelming - I haven't even scratched the surface with this post! Clearly I’ll have more to add later.
For now though, maybe think about these issues, if you’re not thinking about it already, and just be ready for it. You have no control over hormones and puberty but you can control the information your child receives initially and more importantly how this information is given.
Hi, I am Francene...aka @drummerboysmom on Instagram and drummerboyZmom on twitter. I'm an over 40 expat mommy raising a daughter with an old soul and a son with autism in beautiful Jamaica.