Last week in Queensland a young boy living with Aspergers lost both his hands in a dreadful incident where a golf ball, which was a homemade bomb, was given to him. As yet nobody has been charged and the story is still emerging.
However, when something like this happens, and there is Aspergers or Autism involved, I know many parents go through a range of extreme emotions. In this article, I want to help shed light on those emotions and share with you some powerful solution that you can use to protect your child and help them develop bully-resilience.
Whenever the media screams tragedy, bullying and autism in the same headline, it sends a collective shudder for all parents who are raising a child living on the Autism Spectrum. These emotions first range from incredible sadness for the victim and their family; followed by anger as our emotions about our own children’s bullying surface, and finally there is fear. Fear for our children who are so susceptible to bullying which includes often being on the receiving end of some very cruel jokes.
Our children are susceptible to bullying because they often don’t understand when people are either making fun of them or being cruel to them. Alternatively, many ASD children accept being treated badly, because they often haven’t experienced a true friendship to know how that really feels. They don’t have the in-built compass to know the difference between attention and acceptance!
There are two issues children living on the Autism Spectrum face:
1. They are 80% more likely to be bullied than any other child.
2. Bullying is getting worse, not better.
You only need to look around at how people treat one another on reality TV shows, parliament or at sporting events to know we are becoming less compassionate towards the pain of others. Consequently, so many children now live in homes where boundaries are not instilled because their parents are so disconnected, they believe bullying behaviour is acceptable.
However, we cannot live our lives fearful that something might happen to our child, nor be angry because ‘nobody is doing anything’. Both those emotions do nothing to help you or your child. We can make statements that ‘Somebody has to fix this” or “Lock away the perpetrators so they are punished – to teach others a lesson” but we know that both those don’t work because if they did, we would have no crime and empty jails!
Recently I wrote a e-book called Aspergers, Bullying and School, helping parents to teach their children bully-resilience. One of the key points from that program is teaching a child to develop bully resilience by helping them understand their feelings.
Why is this important? Simply this – when you are able to identify your real feelings, at the same time it helps you to develop your own intuition – your own internal guidance system – because you can‘t have one without the other.
Your intuition is your body’s natural early warning system. Intuition acts in two ways– the ability to act on a hunch or an idea that comes to you and it is also the feeling that just gives you an inkling that something isn’t right. But if we are desensitised to feeling, or misunderstand what it means, we miss the messages.
For our kids on the spectrum, that is the ‘disability’ part of their diagnosis of Autism or Aspergers. It is not that they don’t feel, because we know they are capable of great love, but that they often don’t understand what the different feelings are. In fact, for many people on the spectrum their feelings overwhelm them, and become too difficult to manage and understand. That’s where we, as parents come in – it is our job to help them both normalize feelings and understand them.
Often times, ‘feelings’ manifest as physical symptoms that can be difficult for all children to understand and explain. Many children on the spectrum often talk about having a ‘pain in their tummy’, which is often anxiety or stress about an upcoming event. Many ASD kids act out or become angry or violent because they cannot identify the extreme feelings that may overwhelm them. Feelings trigger very real energy, and unless you can express them, it is difficult to understand them. The emotion builds and often the outcomes can be extreme. Our challenge lies in helping them to both understand and normalize feelings and emotion, and then know how to use them to feel empowered to make the right decisions at the right time!
So the following are five ways to being the process of helping your child. When you can see that your child is experiencing or struggling with an emotion, use the following steps to take to help them identify what is happening, understand their feelings and develop strong intuition.
1. Identify the Emotion, ask Why? – “I sense that you are feeling sad/angry/frustrated, what happened?”
2. Normalize the Emotion – “You know if that happened to me I would feel sad/angry/frustrated too”.
3. Identifying with the Story – “I know how that feels, because I felt like that when……”
4. Identify the Physical Reaction – “When you are angry/sad/frustrated how does that make your body feel?”
5. Create strategies to deal with it. – “You know I feel like that sometimes too and when that happens to me what I like to do is go for a walk/punch a pillow/write down my feelings.”
The more you spend time with your child identifying and normalizing the emotion, the stronger they will become. So when somebody treats them badly, or if they are in a potentially dangerous situation, the feelings that arise for them become their guideposts. They will begin to trust in that feeling, knowing the difference between a ‘good’ feeling and a ‘bad’ feeling. When they do that, they can also begin to identify with the ‘strange’ feeling that happens when something doesn’t feel right – ie: begin to listen to their intuition.
Raising a child living on the autism spectrum is like a marathon, not a 100 metre dash! It takes time, effort, commitment and a lot of patience! Nothing is going to happen overnight, but with time (and a little perspiration) you will begin to see changes that you did not think possible!!
We cannot be with our children 24 hours a day to protect them, nor can any school or law-enforcement group solve all the issues for us. This incident in Queensland didn’t occur at school. It happened in the neighbourhood where the boy lives. The outcome was so tragic and sad, but hopefully through it we can all learn some valuable lessons.
In our free webinar coming up I will cover this topic in a little more depth, as an added bonus to the webinar all about our Food, Family & Life on the Spectrum upcoming program.
Speaker, Author, Aspergers Parenting Specialist