When I first entered the world of autism, my son was approaching two years old. He is now just a few months away from his fourteenth birthday. Over the years, we have used many strategies to help him cope with life and emotions and overwhelming situations. Some strategies worked, and some totally failed. But we’ve always looked for ways to help him.
The thing is… he’s not little anymore. There was a time when I could sit and rock him back and forth while we worked through breathing techniques. When he was little, those calm breathing techniques paired with rocking were a life saver. Nowadays, rocking him requires quite a bit more strength than I am prepared to offer. The kid is growing like a weed! He is tall and, although thin, weighs a lot.
There were also things we did with counting. Numbers have always been a huge part of Benjamin’s life, so counting and using numbers on a board or on a calculator used to work very well to chill him out.
Reading certain books, giving him very tight (squeezing) hugs, showing certain pictures, and playing certain types of music have all served as calming techniques in the past.
And sometimes, well, sometimes he just goes to his room and yells for a while. He has done that for years and still does it today. He will set a timer, watch the numbers fly by, and yell/howl/scream as loud as he can. When he’s done, he comes out of his room and is like a whole new person.
All of those strategies and more were great for him when he was younger. Using the timer and screaming in his room is still an effective technique, but it’s something I am trying to get him to change. After all, not everyone out there is going to be receptive to a guy who goes in a room and seemingly goes nuts. It works in our house, but not in the outside world.
And that brings me to what I want to share… because kids grow up.
Kids with autism grow up.
And as parents, we have to grow with them in how we help them.
Over the past year, I have implemented a new strategy in our toolshed of coping mechanisms. My son loves his iPad, and iPads have that wonderful feature called iMessage.
First, I want to point out that Benjamin does not have a phone and texting is not something he just does on a whim. His iMessage is only connected to family members, and I think that is one reason why this strategy helps. If he were texting people all the time, I think the strategy would just seem like an every day/every moment thing… it wouldn’t be different. I hope that makes sense.
Being connected only to family makes iMessage a tool for important things. He only uses it when he has something worth sharing.
And emotions, especially during a situation where a meltdown is sure to happen if the person doesn’t calm down, are worth sharing.
So, with the tool that iMessage is, Benjamin has been messaging me to talk through his feelings rather than having those epic meltdowns. It isn’t foolproof, we’ve still had a few meltdowns since we started this, but my goodness… it has helped so much!
Take today, for example…
Benjamin decided on his own to create a drawing of his sister’s favorite video game character. He went in his room to draw so that it would be a surprise. Art is his thing. He loves to draw and most of the time he takes it very seriously.
All was going well, until it wasn’t.
He started messaging me about how he had messed up the drawing and he was upset.
I went to see what the issue was, and in my not so artsy opinion, there was no issue. Even so, I tried to offer some helpful suggestions. Those suggestions were not met with delight. In fact, I think my suggestions may have made things worse. Nonetheless, I offered them.
After I left his room, Benjamin sent me numerous messages about how things were, in his opinion, messed up. The final one was this…
I am really proud of him for recognizing how he felt in that moment. That is a big deal in our house.
Using the messaging, Benjamin was able to get out the words that he wouldn’t be able to speak verbally in the moment. When he gets upset, complete sentences and standard thought patterns just disappear. He used the iMessage to tell me where he was at mentally.
I went back to his room and sat down next to him. I looked at the drawing… it was really good! But saying that wouldn’t help. Sometimes you just have to know when to stop talking.
I gave him a hug and just sat there with him for a little bit.
And then he said, “I guess I’ll try to fix it.”
Now, not every moment works out with a happy willingness to try again… but this one did. And the picture came out amazing. His sister loves it and was, indeed, surprised.
I’m sharing this with you today because I think there are a lot of parents with teens out there who are wondering where the information is for them. When I try to look up things about teens and autism, it’s not very effective. Most of what I find is so negative. There really aren’t a lot of sites out there sharing effective tips and strategies for the teen years.
I certainly don’t have all the answers myself. I’m just now entering this stage in life. But I will try to share when I find something that works… and, for now, iMessage works.