Have you experienced some exciting, big changes in your child with Autism after an intensive therapy program? Did you find that shortly after you noticed great progress you were also witnessing some less than desirable behaviors?
When you start to “retrain” the brain, It’s like peeling layers of an onion and getting your child closer to their true self. Being previously veiled by sensory overload and expending most of their energy simply trying to navigate through day-to-day experiences, your child is most likely now starting to take interest in people rather than objects, become curious, and feel many emotions for the first time. Do they know how to deal with these emotions? Probably not!
You may start to see some challenging (and downright ugly) behaviors and automatically assume your child is regressing or your therapy is ineffective.
Remember that it’s like starting over in many ways. They are experiencing the world around them with new senses. While in survival mode, your child was incapable of learning some of the tools necessary for coping with everyday situations. After substantial progress is made in the way they process sensory input, they are now open to understand and practice these skills for the first time. But it does take patience.
Maybe they just found their voice and are starting to express extreme likes and dislikes, or preferences for people and activities. Maybe they are so curious they are asking incessant questions about every sentence that comes out of your mouth. Perhaps they are touching things more, or having a new kind of tantrum when they don’t get their way. Take a step back and remember this is all new.
Last night my son was in his room and I started hearing unearthly screams from behind the closed door, each swelling louder than the last, with increasing frustration. He was trying to make something work that wasn’t cooperating. My first instinct as a mother was to run in and comfort him and perhaps even correct the problem; I hated hearing him so upset! There was also a part of me that was flinching with each piercing scream, and I admittedly had control the urge to yell even louder to get him to stop.
Either action would have been a true disservice to him. What I needed to do was sit with him and explain what happens when we let ourselves get that frustrated with things. I needed to teach him a manageable protocol for dealing with those feelings, before they get to the point where he’s breaking items because he can’t get it them function correctly.
I made it clear that it was always okay for him to feel whatever he was feeling, but that there were other things he could do to deal with those feelings. We talked about how to handle it when something isn’t working – not continuing to do the same thing repeatedly (only harder), but to stop, take five deep breaths and either ask for help or start asking questions. What am I not seeing? Is there another way to do this? If it can’t be done, can I be okay with that? Can mom help? Should I call for her?
Social stories and visual cues are great tools – it’s a good time to revisit some past attempts that may or may not have been successful for you before. My son and I started employing American Sign Language and certain codes from the police and fire scanner to alert each other that it’s time to use one of our new behaviors. As often as possible, I lead him to try and work out the progression on his own instead of solely giving him exact instructions.
It’s a new and exciting time when this kind of progress is made. It’s also easy to have expectations about coping skills and behaviors you assume should come with that progress. It’s my experience that I can always use a “refresher course” on the very things I’m teaching my son for the first time.
How about you? What are some behaviors you’ve mistaken for regression? What are some ways you worked through them with your child? I’d love to hear your stories, so please comment below or post them on my Facebook page so we can help each other!