If you want to get me cranky, protective and outraged, give one of these statements a try when you are next talking to me. Even better, use most of them in one conversation, and do it in front of my son. That is a sure fired way to ensure that I will discount your helpful suggestions on how I can better do my job as his mother. (It will also 100% guarantee that I will write a blog post about it.)
1. He just needs to fit in with everyone else
You think? Wouldn’t it be great if just telling him to fit in with everyone else was the answer. Wouldn’t it be great if we were all cut from the same mould and could fit into the designated slot in life that you think we should fit into. Oh, and while we are at it, thank you for telling me, after knowing him for a very short time, how you know what he ‘needs’. Because up until now, while I have been dealing with schools, psychiatrists, paediatricians, psychologists, police, social workers and the government, it never occurred to me that I could solve all of this by telling him to fit in.
Fitting in. What does that look like? Is that where he doesn’t say anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, doesn’t question whether something is fair or not, doesn’t overreact when he feels he is treated unfairly, and doesn’t interrupt your vision of what your life should look like? Wouldn’t it be nice if he did fit in. Did it ever occur to you that perhaps all he wants himself is to fit in. To not be the kid who can’t cope with too much noise, or with not being perfect at something the first time he tries, who can’t understand why other kids don’t get his sense of humour, who worries that other kids don’t like him because he gets angry when he is overwhelmed. To be ‘normal’.
Guess what? I don’t want him to fit in. If he fitted in, in the way that you want him to, he would lose himself, and all the good things that go with being him. His awesome sense of the ridiculous, his ability to give hugs just at the right time, his sharp mind and amazing strategies, and the endless possibilities that are open before him because he has to work so much harder than everyone else to do the same things that other kids in his class do with ease.
2. He is just doing this to get attention
Of course he is! What kid climbs an electricity pole in the middle of winter and declares that he won’t come down, in order not to get attention? What kid rings his mother who is many hours drive away and threatens to kill himself, in order not to get attention?
The question is not whether he wants attention, it is WHY he wants attention. What overloading of his senses, his ability to cope, his sense of fairness has happened that is causing him to act in such an extreme way? And what can we do to help him to see that he is loved, supported, and cherished, so that he doesn’t need to behave in this way in order to get our attention.
3. He needs to understand how this makes (insert name of choice) feel
Ouch. There it is again. What he ‘needs’ to do. If only he can rewire his brain circuits so that he understands other people’s emotions clearly, and take them into account when those people are contributing to his need to seek attention, then everything will be okay. You will love him if he understands how his behaviour is affecting you.
Maybe, just maybe, you might like to think about how an 8 year old kid sees the world. Forget whether he has special needs or not – most 8 year old kids are still fairly egocentric in their actions. Telling him to take your feelings into account and to stop this behaviour is not, unfortunately, a magic cure-all. If it was then I would be rich, having saved many thousands of dollars on specialists because I could have taken your advice for free.
4. He needs to understand the consequence of his actions
Uh-huh. Again, what he ‘needs’ to do. Because if he can just think about what his behaviour is doing, then he will stop it, straight away. Can I remind you again, using small words, that this boy is 8 years old. He doesn’t like hurting people. He doesn’t like feeling hurt. He doesn’t like constantly stumbling through life, letting people down, making mistakes. If he could, at this age, think of the consequences of his actions and therefore change his actions, don’t you think he would?
5. He is going to have a miserable life if he doesn’t start to improve his behaviour
Grrrrrrr…….how dare you presume to tell my son what his life is going to be like. And even worse, how dare you tell him that his life will be bad. He believes the things that adults tell him. Ever heard of a self-fulfilling prophecy? And quite apart from my emotive response to how an adult can be so cruel to a child, how on earth do you know what his life is going to be like? Have you seen the amazing steps he has taken over the last couple of years? Do you know just how bad things were 3 years ago? Do you know how much work and support I put into ensuring that in fact he has a wonderful future ahead of him, and how much he looks to the positive future now? And finally, do you honestly think that this is his choice?! What on earth is he hoping to gain by ‘choosing’ to behave in this way, particularly when not behaving in this way has so many more rewards!
And finally – don’t ever, whether a child has special needs or not, talk about that child in such a way in front of him or her. It is cruel. And slightly ironic. While you are so busy telling me that he needs to control himself, behave better, understand the consequences of his actions, you are doing the exact opposite. Perhaps leading by example would be a better way to help him.
Vent over! Regular programming will resume shortly!
A small post-script. If you think you recognise yourself in this post, you probably do. (And we may never have met.)