Once again, a big thank you to reader Janice, for alerting me to Dr. Temple Grandin's latest book, "The Loving Push."
Dr. Grandin, if you're unaware or not part of the autism community, is on the spectrum herself, and renowned for developing key strategies in animal science. She is also a champion of numerous autism-related initiatives. Her biography was made into a major motion picture just a few years ago.
In her latest book, Dr. Grandin discusses the need and the benefit of pushing an autistic child outside their normal comfort zone (gently, of course), and why that can make such a difference in their lives.
I cannot agree with this enough.
As an autism parent, it can be exhausting fighting constant skirmishes over the least little things. You honestly do have to pick your battles. Do I let my son wear gloves inside a restaurant? Yes. Do I let him dip his green beans in ketchup? Yes. Do I let him sing in the other room while we're watching TV in the front room? You bet, as long as he keeps it down.
Do I let him sing in a restaurant? No. That would be rude to the other diners. Do I let him wear gloves at school during class? No. That would be distracting to him and to the other children. Yes, it would be easier to give in, but that's not helping him. It's not teaching him how to get along with others, how to conform to social norms, and how to navigate this confusing world he's been dropped into.
All lessons need to be constructive and kind, but the structure has to be there. And a lot of times, that involves taking your kid out of his comfort zone early on, and not letting him or her get set in their own "patterns."
I remember once, when the ex and I were still together, we were watching one of those reality shows where they bring a nanny in to help you with your parenting and kid issues. This family had a child with autism (and a few neurotypical siblings). The autistic child ate dinner at her computer (while playing games) every evening, while the rest of the family ate at the table. The nanny asked why that was and they replied that the child screamed and had a meltdown whenever they tried to make her eat with the others.
The ex and I just looked at each other and said, "No f---ing way."
Believe me, I know all about meltdowns. Any autism parent does. But sometimes, you have to have that battle. Keeping your child included in the family is worth that skirmish, and all the follow-up skirmishes until it becomes their new - and comfortable - routine.
If those parents had pushed, gently, firmly, and repeatedly, that girl would have been having dinner with her family, listening as they shared about their day and maybe even sharing a little herself.
It's a fine balance, letting your child have the minor things that give them comfort (because they do need those things) and nudging them out of repeated patterns so that they try or experience something new. It's exhausting a lot of the time - for the parent and for the child - but it needs to be done. It really does.
Anyway, that's my 2 cents on the subject. You can find Dr. Grandin's book here.