Life with autistic children can be full of surprises. They have to be trained for everything that other children would figure out as they get more emotionally matured. Adolescence and Teenage years are challenging for children and their parents. In case of a Special Needs Child it can be very confusing. My son is 11 years old, partially verbal and has entered pre puberty phase of his life. The physical changes a young boy would undergo in adolescence along with behavioural changes started for him six months back. He would stare at his own hands and legs while looking into the mirror and run his hand in the reverse direction of hair growth. He would look into the mirror and enjoy styling his own hair. He became conscious of wearing T-shirts and undergarments that were more age appropriate. He did not walk around shirtless even at home. While bathing he seemed to enjoy rubbing soap for a longer span of time and started indulging in self stimulation and sensory play. He did not want his parents in the bathroom as we would ask him to stop and shower quickly. We noticed an increase in energy and aggression.
I was very confused and did not know what to explain, how to counsel and guide him through this. In this dilemma we received very practical and invaluable inputs from other parents and counsellors. They asked me to respect his need for privacy and space when he asked for it. The therapist told me “Do not tell him what he should not do, tell him what he could do instead. “ We ignored commenting on “inappropriate behaviours” and only verbally acknowledged the positive ones. Every time he got overwhelmed by sensory self stimulation, I would gently speak to him telling him that I understood what he was going through even though he couldn’t tell me. I told him that I knew it was tough for him. We had to accept this little young adult, give him space, be there for him through his confusion and tears and withdraw into silence when he didn’t need meddlesome parents. His fresh burst of energy and aggression was channelized constructively towards sports training.
Once he returned from school, we made him follow a routine:
- Rest for a while
- Eat snacks
- Watch television for a while
- Leave for sports training. Cycle, run, play cricket, attempt badminton, in other words exercise and get tired.
The sessions would last for an hour and extend to two depending on his energy level and interest to stay outdoors for that particular day. With all this Surya mellowed down. His self play, stimulation, aggression came down by 90%. At present Surya enjoys wearing Clifton T-shirts, riding a size-24 cycle, wants adult floaters, prefers wooden Cricket Bats to plastic ones and copies his father more easily. We give him what he chooses and this keeps him happy and calm. The next thing we have to face in three to four years is teaching him to use a shaving gel and razor safely. A few tips:
- Accepting your little special adult and accompanying him in his phase of adolescence is a very confusing and challenging journey. Seek help from counsellors, therapists other older parents of Special children would be useful. This path is familiar and has been travelled by them.
- Plan your child’s routine, well in advance and inform sports trainers about needing extra time if required.
- Involve other family members in counselling sessions and help your child through the pre puberty phase.
Parents should get ready to handle the Emotional Tsunami Special Children usually experience ,,, AGGRESSION , DEPPRESSION, MOOD SWINGS AND SOMETIMES LOW SELF-ESTEEM .