Picture it. Your child’s screech pierces the air as you pass by the aisle of treats in the grocery store. Your intelligent brain tries to reassure you that you are right to not give in to the demands for candy, but, your ego’s voice is screaming, “Give him the damn candy and shut him up! EVERYONE is looking at you!”
Next scene. You are an educational assistant and you and the student you assist are calmly and discreetly entering the classroom and joining the other students in a learning centre. Without warning, your dream of discretion is shattered by fingers gripping securely into your arm and the force of a determined pre- teen drag you backwards. Your face turns red, your arm throbs and all eyes are on you.
How do you feel in each of these scenes? Is your heart pumping fast, climbing up in your chest, face flushing, throat tightening and your mind racing?
If so, you are probably pretty normal…and healthy. At least your fight/flight system is working.
Even in less public situations it can be very challenging to manage self -control when a child/student is losing theirs. Sometimes, it can feel almost impossible. Perhaps you feel as if all eyes are glued on you and those stares reflect a complete disgust at your lack of competence. Maybe you feel as if you must be doing something wrong and your lack of confidence shines like a floodlight on a dark night. Perhaps, you are silently praying for a deep abyss to open from the fall and you sink in without anyone noticing!
Even though it is very hard to keep this in mind during a stressful situation, the feelings you experience are YOURS. Too often, we allow our own emotions to dictate the way we respond to the student with autism that cannot navigate their own emotional hijacking! The only thing worse that a child out of control is a child AND an adult out of control!
We all know that we need to stay calm and in control but knowing this is often not enough when our bodies feel as if we are under attack. That’s why we need to quickly recognize our physical response to an escalating situation and then immediately rely on cognition to self -talk our way through it. First, take deep breaths yourself through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Send oxygen to your brain so that it can do its job of thinking. Next, identify your thoughts.
Are you saying to yourself, “Holy crap, EVERYONE is staring? I look like I have zero control over this kid! I look incompetent. What can I do to stop this immediately?” 😳
That is your ego talking and it does not give a hoot about what is best for the child. The child’s needs are FIRST and FOREMOST. Your job at this point is to ask yourself what the child is communicating to you. This is NOT the time to ask the child a million questions OR to reprimand the behaviour!! It is also NOT the time to give in to the request for candy. We never want to reinforce temper tantrums as a means of communicating. It is NOT the time to raise your voice, call the child a baby and/or overpower the child.
Think about it. How would YOU want to be treated if you were experiencing an emotional breakdown?
Watch for the next blog to outline what you can do… 🙄