Today, as soon as Frank, a ten year old boy with a diagnosis of Autism, began to find himself stuck and blaming everyone but himself, we talked very clearly and plainly about disengaging from his unproductive downward spiral. His nanny and therapeutic companion in the classroom said that she felt “bullied” by him and therefore often gives in. I reminded her that she is the adult in the situation, and that he doesn’t get to bully us. When he talks in a belligerent or caustic way, we can simply spotlight this for him and let him know that we hear how he’s talking to us, but that it doesn’t sound like we’re having a conversation. However, as soon as we can have a productive conversation, then we would be happy to do so.
His parent mentioned that she didn’t like it when he said that because the adults had a turn to talk, it should be his turn to talk and that adults don’t get to make all the rules. Rather than getting caught up in how it may feel as though he is speaking to us in a disrespectful manner, I think it’s important to focus on the fact that there is no issue with having a collaborative conversation take place between adults and children. However, if someone, under the guise of having a viable conversation, is actuality attacking and baiting, then that does not feel like a conversation that will be productive or beneficial.
Today was the first day we were able to see the moment before that switch flipped for him, and this helped us to disengage from the unhealthy interaction. Instead of trying to explain ourselves and share rational thoughts and ideas, we simply spotlighted that we could see the switch was about to flip and we could hear him repeating himself, which signified to us that it was time to disengage from what was no longer going to be a productive interaction. We all saw him make a choice to calm down and begin to take responsibility for his role in either contributing toward or working against our interactions with one another.
Separately, his teacher and his parents had made a deal with him that if he had a great day at school on Friday of last week, then he could go camping with his mom on Friday night. However, the agreement went on to say that if he had a rough day at school, he would lose that first night of camping with his mom. He ended up losing that first night of camping, and he blamed his mom and his teacher. Everyone but himself was to blame, it seemed, for the choices he was making about whether or not to act as a collaborator with his partners in the world. This notion of him beginning to accept onus is crucial. He’s close, but not quite ready to do so just yet. However, as soon as he begins to take responsibility for his role in making choices about behaving in a way that is contributive and collaborative, that is when we will begin to see change elicited.