My daughter has autism. She's beautiful, smart, loving and full of personality... and she has autism. She also happens to be one of those autistic kids with "behaviors."
Now, the parenting manual (what? you didn't get one?) states that parents can produce well-behaved, respectful children with a few basic tenets that usually come down to these:
- Set limits.
- Be consistent.
- Be patient.
- Reward positive behavior.
- Clarify expectations and consequences.
- Follow through.
Actually, I believe these easily apply to kids with autism, too... if you set them in all caps, bold them, raise the font size to 42 and keep your fingers crossed.
My daughter has and follows lots of rules. I don't even know some of them. Like every time we pass a certain restaurant on a Tuesday when it's raining, she gets a Frosty. Because that's what happened before -- ONE Tuesday, ONE time, when it was raining.
You see, there's really no such thing as exceptions, special occurrences and temporary changes in routine. To her, every occurrence simply is a new precedent that she files away in that mysterious superbrain of hers.
As for rules that we intend to impose on her... well -- and I probably can't even blame autism for this one -- she thinks breaking those is hilarious. There's nothing more entertaining than someone in trouble. Especially if it's herself.
One more little reminder before I go on: she has no regard for social decorum. Yet, the world around her requires it -- for inclusion; acceptance; safety; and even civility (we just can't all walk around without pants in most parts of this country).
Now, like many like-minded parents, we have invested ridiculous amounts of time, money, energy and tears in hopes that our sweet, mischievous little girl could learn to retrofit herself into our strange and dangerous world. This world has many social expectations that make little sense to her -- like not hugging strangers; not stealing food from others' plates; not wandering hotel hallways alone; not shoplifting; and so on. While she likes to do all of these things, and as much as I respect her individuality and her independence, I simply won't allow them. Even when you tell me, "It's okay."
Look, I know you don't mind if she grabs the pickles from your sandwich. And I know you barely know her, but her hug really made your day. I realize that, by allowing her to do these things, you're intending to be kind, or helpful, or supportive.
But when she sneaks up behind you and yanks your ponytail holder out of your hair, I really do have to reprimand her. We both might think it's cute (and OMG she is cute), but it's simply not acceptable. It easily will snowball into a month of drive-by hair snatching, ponytail-holder hoarding, hell, I don't know... something that inevitably will take me by surprise. And while I know you probably don't mind, I do. And society certainly will.
Further, when I scold her, you probably will think my reaction surpasses the crime. Or that I'm just really, really mean. I assure you, I'm not half as tough, consistent or patient as the job requires. But I love her beyond words and I know her potential, so I try.
Maybe you're thinking that, as her special friend (great grandmother... favorite teacher... fairy godmother... whatever), you should be allowed to indulge her. Of course it's "okay" with you if she pulls the band aid off of your paper cut. You're thrilled at the chance to make her happy.
However and especially BECAUSE you love her, you should know it's not okay. She adores you, yes, but she will not necessarily differentiate this behavior between you and strangers. Safety aside, even if it's cute now, it will get less and less cute as she grows older.
So, the next time she swipes your baby's sippy cup or follows you into the bathroom for a peek, please don't giggle and correct me when I discipline her... or harshly remind her of our rules and expectations... or tear my hair out. Because no, it most definitely is not okay.
Photo Credit: puzzlescript.
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