The Integrative Approach to Autism part 21: When Things Don’t Go Your Way

Mar 27 2013

This post continues the 3-Step Integrative Approach to Autism series. Today Part 21: BEHAVIORAL Requirements for Growth: When Things Don’t Go Your Way

What If Things Don’t Go Our Way?

Many sensitive children have difficulty seeing the needs of others and consequently tend to focus exclusively on their own needs. In addition, many sensitive children are deeply aware of their emotional needs and the deprivation they feel that letting them have their way is the least their immediate environment can do to compensate for that emotional void.

Regarding the first possibility, many sensitive children lag behind in learning that in addition to their own perspective, there are other perspectives viewed by others. For example, a couple has two children, one eight years of age and sensitive and one six years of age and less sensitive. The younger one develops pneumonia and has to stay in a hospital for four days until she recovers. When she is back home, the parents decide to cheer her up by sharing some of her older brother’s toys with her. The older brother has been dealing with his parents’ near complete absence for a few days, which is not easy for him. On top of that, now he has to share his toys. The situation becomes inflamed and the older sibling fights to get his toys back, crying and screaming. In this situation, he fights because cannot see the urgent need of his little sister and the health problem she has been through. He is only thinking of himself and his current troubles. The mother takes nothing for granted. She gives him his toys back temporarily and takes him to his room where she explains that his sick sister is in urgent need of cheering up. She explains how she is in pain and relates her situation to when he got sick. She explains the special attention that was given to him during his difficult time, and is now being offered to his sister. The mother’s reassuring words are logical and just. The older sibling feels better and sets out on a mission to make his little sister feel better. He comes out of his room dragging a big bag of toys to his sister’s room. He goes in and offers her the toys, guiding her through what each does and how to best play with it.

This is obviously a happy example, yet things are not always that easy. Teaching perspective to sensitive children often cannot happen through passive transfer of information. Teaching perspective relies on the parents, always asking their sensitive child to consider other possibilities for events. Sensitive children often have rigid ideas about why and how something happens. The role of the parent is to always ask, “What other possibilities could have led to this outcome?” In addition, the parent could guide the child in the direction where she could find these possibilities.

It has been said that a boy does not become a man until he finds joy in helping someone else other than himself. Similarly, a girl does not become a woman until she finds joy in helping someone else other than herself. Yet, the time to go through this process is during childhood. During teenage and adult years, someone who fails to see the perspective of others will have a tough time navigating educational, personal, social and professional endeavors.

Regarding the second possibility, many sensitive children feel entitled to fulfill the lack of emotional attention to her or understanding of her through receiving material, personal or emotional help from her immediate environment. This is a fairly more complicated issue since it touches on the relationship between the child and her parents as a whole. The stubbornness and self-absorption many sensitive children show growing up should be a signal to parents to re-examine their relationship with their child. They need to look for bonding problems that may have created mistrust and/or resentment on the side of the child. It is never too late to try to re-establish the parent-child bond. All it takes is going back to the basics and showing consistency in treating and handling your child for a while. Consistency should always be done with a positive attitude. Forget about structure and discipline for while as you go back and nurture your child through hugs, understanding, acceptance and/or encouragement ‘always in a consistent way’. This might take a lot of effort and might not receive any immediate reaction from the child, but keep at it until you re-enter your child’s heart. This could have immeasurable long-term rewards to the parent and could be socially empowering in the child’s life.

Rami Serhan, MD
Author, Psyche-Smart Autism; Integrative Medicine Consultant
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