When my son was first diagnosed with autism, I was so relieved to finally understand and have an explanation for the difficult and sometimes bizarre behaviors that I would find myself explaining to strangers and friends alike that he was autistic. I still do that to some extent, but after a few months of allowing those behaviors to continue because he was “autistic” I came to the hard realization that it still isn’t okay.
My son may have a disability, and may react and act different than his neurotypical peers, but that does not mean he can be rude, or act up in public, or get whatever he wants. I was reminded sharply of the Helen Keller movie where her family just gave her everything because they felt bad and didn’t know how to communicate with her. She became a terror, and I know a lot of kids with and without disabilities that are terrors because of poor parenting or low expectations.
So now there are lots of rules at our house. Ben is getting really good at negotiating the rules. He has started to pay attention to what his cousins and friends are allowed to do and will frequently admonish me on my strictness. He likes rules, and he especially likes it when we write them down. In a way the rule setting helped his behavior more than any other technique or therapy. Once he knew what to expect and what was required of him, we were able to settle into a family routine that is usually quite peaceful. He is on top of his homework, slightly OCD about his chores and trades his responsibilities in for time playing video games. He is polite and learning to be kind, and when we are consistent with the rules he is well-behaved and happier.
There will always be some things he just cannot control or do, and those things we will continue to discuss and address in calmer, more teachable moments. In moments of severe distress, we have a plan, and it is one that he understands and abides by. It works for us, and I have seen it work for many children.
Autism is not an excuse to be rude, or mean, or out of control. It does make life harder and it makes our jobs as parents that much harder as we must consistently and repeatedly enforce rules in uncomfortable and often embarrassing situations. Studies and ABA therapy have proven that consistent adherence to a routine and a set of instructions and expectations can and will help our children learn to behave and function in society. It is so important that they learn and we all play our part as we consistently hold our children to higher standards. Not because we have to, or they need it, but because it is what is best for them.