If you’re a parent, you may know what I’m writing about. How many times have you left your child with a friend or family member, and you were texted just moments prior to your arrival that he or she was a complete angel all day? Then, something mystical happens the moment you step one foot over the threshold to pick them up - the challenging behaviors begin. It is quite the phenomenon. At least I thought it was until recently.
As a parent of a child with a disability and children with no known disabilities, I learned that there really is little difference with some behavioral patterns we commonly see in all children. I started to notice that my son would behave fine with my husband (his step-dad) in my absence. I would have to run an errand or work late, and he would spend a few hours or more with my husband and step-son, and of course, I would call concerned that there might have been an outburst or incident because things are different when I’m not home. My husband would always say any of the following statements: “He’s fine, he’s lying here on the couch with me watching Monsters, Inc. He’s in the kitchen eating a snack and watching his ipad. He’s been acting silly, spinning and laughing.” My husband would usually report a wonderful time with my son - until I walked through the door. All of sudden, my son starts to whine (something he typically does when he’s upset). I come closer to give him a kiss and I get a pinch instead. For the longest time, I couldn’t understand why my son would target me when he got angry. Why was I the one getting pinched or hit? I’m the one closest to him, I’m the one who does everything for him. Why is it that he would come after just me when he’s upset about something?
I mentioned earlier that there are many similarities in some of the behavioral patterns we see in children with disabilities. We all know that sometimes children exhibit undesirable behaviors because they crave our attention. The same applies to children with disabilities, but if your child has difficulty with communicating their needs, desires, or expectations, then there is a slight difference in the cause of their behavioral response to what’s happening around them. I have a theory. Children with disabilities rely completely on the person closest to them (parents, siblings, grandparents, or other guardians). Whoever that person may be, whether it’s mom, dad, a sister or brother, if you are the closest person to the child, you will be the one most held accountable for anything and everything. I mentioned that I am the closest person to my son. We could be in a room filled with people, he could be on one end of the room, while I’m all the way at other end of the room. If my son’s ipod doesn’t do exactly what he wants it to do, he will charge for me across the room, bypassing others, just to give me a pinch. Why would he target me? Because as the person closest to him (the one who usually takes care of everything), I should be able to make sure he doesn’t have to deal with silly things like the ipod not doing what it should. That’s right, I’m the one who should know how to make all things better- instantaneously. After all, why isn’t the ipod functioning appropriately if I’m in the room? I should know what he feels, wants, doesn’t want, and eliminate all things that make him unhappy. And if I don’t “fix” whatever is troubling him at the precise moment for which it is required, then now, I have upset him.
Now, please note, my son is a loving and sweet boy. Richie has a smile and laugh so contagious, I can’t help but smile just thinking about it. I am especially proud of the progress he's made in the past year. Although his expressive language is limited, (Richie cannot express his needs, wants, desires, and dislikes effectively at all times), he's learning new words all the time and his use of language is improving daily. He’s does wonderfully with hand-guiding, gestures, and he can verbally ask for a few things - like when he needs to use the bathroom, wants a bottle of water, or take a shower. His receptive language is great, he understands almost everything and will follow many instructions well. I do a pretty good job at guessing most things. In fact, I might be the best at guessing, which is why I’m held to very high expectations. And I’m sure that the many times I’ve been pinched, hit, or pushed, it was because I disappointed him by guessing wrong or simply not knowing how to help at all. Like many parents, I exercise extraordinary patience and love with my son. How could I not? All my life, I will never know what it’s like not be able to communicate with others at will. I will never know what a day in his life truly is like. All I know, is like many parents, I make every effort in working towards increasing his ability to communicate and express his needs, so we rely on guessing less. Like many parents, I work daily towards increasing my son's independence and improving his quality of life. As many of you fellow parents know, it is always a work in progress. To all of you fellow parents, guardians and loved ones, getting pinched today because of how much you are loved and needed, hang in there friend. Our kids are learning more and more each day, and one day, they will find their voice.