Information for parents of disabled children

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

It's just not personal.

Autism Family Camp Weekend 2009
Autism Family Camp Weekend 2009 (Photo credit: Camp ASCCA)
Children with autism have meltdowns. We say it. We acknowledge it routinely, as it is repeated like a mantra by parents trying to prepare professionals for the moment their child goes ballistic. Every parent knows there will be a moment when our lovable, sweet comedian isn't so funny.

There will be screaming, hitting, kicking, and other unwelcome social behaviors. What's surprising is not how many people don't understand the autistic meltdown, but how many professionals don't fully understand until the day arrives.

The severity of the autism can define how bad it gets, and it can get bad. If you're working with any disabled student, there are some things you need to know.

  • It's not personal. You're just there. They didn't hit you because they hate you. Something is getting to them, and, just like when dealing with Alzheimer's patients, this is a good time to pause, back off or get out of the way. 
  • They can't stop it. Only you can prevent autism meltdowns (except when you can't)!  Know what is pushing them too far. Get to know the triggers, and don't blame them for things they can't control. 
  • Safety first.  Worry about causes later, but at the height of the meltdown your focus has to be on the student and keeping everyone safe. Deal with the behavior before you discuss causes. The worst thing you can do is have that discussion in front of the student while he's already wound up. 

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Monday, April 23, 2012

Guest Blogger: Jeff Stimpson

Jeff Stimpson
Twitter: @Jeffslife
Books: Alex: The Fathering of a Preemie and 
Alex the Boy: Episodes From A Family's Life With Autism


Jobs to Do
They're talking jobs in Alex's future, as he nears 14 and "vocational" begins to appear on his IEP. They're talking "jobs" in 14 million other futures right now of course, but as Alex gets closer to adulthood I try to not think about that.
There are various jobs Alex can do. Even now in the grocery store, he aligns cans so the labels face the same way. At grandpa's lake house, he sets the table for a dozen with the handles of the coffee cups all facing the same way. There are other examples.
Jobs he does:
Alex empties the dishwasher every morning before the sun is up (his schoolbus comes at 6, and he's often up by 4:30 anyway). "Knives, forks and spoons, Alex," I say over the lower bin, which I've pulled out after he's made sure to close the soap box. One by one he drops the utensils clattering into their slots in the drawer. Except for the paper-thin tablespoons Jill paid 25-cent each for, of course; Alex hates those, and morning after morning he tries to slide them unnoticed into the rear end of the drawer.
He does laundry, hauling the heavy cart to the elevator and punching B for basement. I still keep an eye on him down there, as it wasn't long ago that he darted for the door and even locked himself in the bathroom. These days, he scoops the fallen socks and underwear from the floor and stuffs them into the triple-loaders. When the laundry's done, he wrestles the tangles from the washer. Once, when all the triples were taken and we had to use the double front-loaders, Alex stared at the triples then looked for a moment at the doubles. He wanted to understand but the doubles were new to him. He wanted to understand - and I ached as I sure hoped Alex didn't realize that other people understand the difference between the doubles and the triples much, much faster than he can.
Jobs he creates:
Sweeping pretzel and cookie crumbs from the cushion of the couch, the floor of the living room, and Ned's bed, where Alex perches - never on his own bed - to munch and watch the iPad. "Alex put crumbs in my bed!" says Ned, his arms arcing madly across the sheets. When I was a little kid, I could never sleep when I thought there were crumbs in my bed, either. Thanks, Alex!I don't like to think about them roaches.
Alex up in the middle of the night and first thing in the morning also means I have to wipe piss from around the toilet bowl. Enough of that, for now. He scatters clothes when he's picking out what he's going to wear that day, socks and pants and T shirts littered around the foot of his dresser like Civil War dead in the Brady photograph around the walls of a fort. Alex scatters Legos and makes Ned cry and then swear. Thanks, Alex!
We learn more about Alex and jobs when we visit his classroom. We learn he orders the supplies for his classroom and delivers newspapers to all the classrooms in his school.
We learn too that he sweeps floors and wipes tables in his classroom. Funny he never mentioned that to us.