Many times I’ve been called into a general education classroom to help out with a student who is having a meltdown. The scene I see is a teacher trying to keep the rest of her class on task as they try to figure out what to do for the child who is hiding under their desk sobbing or throwing objects and yelling. Obviously, someone has been triggered, but by what? That’s where I have to start to deconstruct the situation to find out what happened right before the scene I walked into. In a perfect world, I would have already been there, studiously taking data on what I was observing and seeing what elements could have been changed to change the outcome. But we don’t live in a world where our children are set up for success at every turn and we can calmly float through life with no worries. And thank God for that! Don’t get me wrong, I never want to see a child in distress. This is like a nail to my heart. But what I do want to see if how we can better equip our children with Autism to handle our worst fears: The Unexpected! What better gift can we give our children than to learn how to navigate life's unexpected obstacles, those slip-ups that turn out to be such rich learning opportunities. Does this mean I advocate for throwing a child into a chaotic situation and wishing them luck? Of course not! But I wouldn’t be doing my job if I wasn’t helping them prepare for the unexpected, even when the unexpected could potentially be a huge trigger for them.
So what is a trigger? And how can we teach people around us who might not “get” that these can be a big deal when it comes to our loved ones with Autism. I’ve used this scenario before, but it continues to be difficult for me so I’ll use it again. If someone mentions a trip to Costco or any other store like it, my brain starts a series of events in my body that is much like a freight train without breaks. I start to visualize the layout of the store and all the sounds, smells, and items there. My chest gets tight and I get short of breath. All I can focus on is the mass amounts of people there and trying to navigate my way around without losing my patience of going into complete sensory overload. Usually, this is when I say no I cannot go and pawn it off on someone else who can handle the chaos. Now, what if I was a person with Autism going into this situation? How would you prepare someone for this? What do you do to prepare yourself before you go into a potentially high anxiety situation? That’s where we need to focus on the link between anxiety and Autism because that’s where we can help relieve some of the pressure for people. Having a plan when going into situations like this is so helpful, but knowing that life throws us curveballs so have some tricks in your back pocket just in case. It’s a lot like being a magician and a hostage negotiator at the same time; you always want to be sure you can see what’s going on in the situation from all angles and being ready for any sudden movement but then knowing you can redirect their attention somewhere else in a split second. Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it? Well, you being a Special Needs parent knows better than anyone that it is. But it is also your gift. You have the amazing gift to read your child better than anyone and see where a situation is going. That’s what I want you to teach others, the little nuances of your child’s personality that can help others see how they can guide your child to fulfill their birthright of awesomeness.
I am planning on opening up my practice to training videos as well and would like to invite all of you to participate in this with me. I would love to hear your feedback on what you want others to know about Autism (yours or a loved ones), what you don’t think works, what was a game changer for you, and what keeps your cup filled to help get you through your day. I want to use this platform as a safe spot for us to talk about ideas, strategies, and comfort one another. My hope is that each one of us will see that we are not alone, and we are stronger navigating Autism together than alone. Please join me in this fight for the next best generation of humans. I hope you all are having a wonderful week so far!