Autism Awareness Day #3

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www.yourdictionary.com states that to “persevere” is to stick with something; even though it may become difficult.  If one is “perseverant” or displays “perseverant” behaviours, www.yourdictionary.com  states that such a person will continue to persist and keep trying despite difficulties.  In my official dictionary of life www.libbyrosentreter.com “perseverant” behaviour in one’s children can be defined as a one way trip to either hell or an asylum depending on the specific conditions at hand.

An individual with autism may display the highest level of commitment or perseverance when it comes to something that is of interest to them. My boys, especially James, will perseverate and get stuck on the most seemingly ridiculous things that there is no possibility of being able to control.  One of the best examples of this occurred when he was about 3 years old.

At this age James became extremely interested in garbage trucks and wheelie bins, and he knew the bin emptying schedule of all surrounding suburbs including our own. The thing that he got stuck on though was the wheelie bins.  It was absolutely necessary that everyone have two wheelie bins on their kerbs on collection day – not one, not three, two! It was also imperative that both wheelie bins had been put on the kerb in the correct way – side by side with the handles facing towards the road and definitely with both lids closed and both bins in the upright position.  Any variation to James’ wheelie bin scheme would send him off into a screaming frenzy of frustration.  This would happen without fail every week on our way to AEIOU (Autism Early Intervention Outcomes Unit).

These kinds of perseverant behaviours are the things most likely to send me on a one way ticket to crazy town! I simply cannot control who decides to put their wheelie bins out, how many bins they put out, and if they are actually indeed familiar with the correct etiquette for wheelie bin placement on kerbs as determined by His Lordship, James!  Some days I’d just be so frustrated and insane with it I would visualise putting my car window down and just screaming out abuse at all these completely ignorant wheelie bin users who were clearly deliberately trying to persecute my child and I by not following the correct procedure!

Perseverance is actually, in most situations, a real asset to any person. The ability to keep going, to keep your interest, passion and energy up despite all the obstacles in your path is generally speaking in the journey of life a definite plus.  Perseverance in this case serves a purpose; progress is made; it has an end goal in mind.  Perseverant behaviour however serves no real purpose and nothing is achieved.  In the case of Autism, perseverant behaviour has the possibility of hugely impacting on an individual’s ability to function.  If you are so concerned about the wheelie bins that you can’t get to work, or think about anything else, follow through with other tasks and keep yourself safe, then your ability to function is hugely impacted.  If you are determined that every single person must follow the plan and that this is the only way that you can get past your perseverance on the issue, it can clearly be debilitating.

Another example … James’ beautiful teacher last year acquired a new pair of ear-rings. James came home at the end of the day and immediately launched into a lengthy diatribe about how Miss H had a new pair of ear-rings but that she hadn’t introduced them to him.  He had perseverated on that all day long.  It had really bothered him that she was wearing something new and something different that he wasn’t expecting, and he really needed that “introduction” to the new ear-rings in order to stop perseverating about them.

I think perseverant behaviour is one of the trickiest behaviours to intervene with. I think it’s tricky because it is often so very distressing to the child; either that or it serves a very specific need such as repetition or reassurance.  It’s important to acknowledge that distress and/or need in my opinion and then try to negotiate the way forward.  In our house we’ve tried lots of strategies and like all strategies – some were successful, some were not and some were successful short term and then ceased being effective after a few days.  Very frustrating!  Now that the boys are a little older it is easier to talk it through with them.  For example, with the ear-rings incident I simply said:

Me: Really? She had new ear-rings? How did that make you feel?

James: I didn’t like it because she didn’t introduce me to them.

Me: I can understand that it might worry you that you hadn’t seen Miss H wearing the ear-rings before.  The ear-rings were new and different.  Hmmmm … this was a challenge for you today.  I wonder how we could solve it?

James: I don’t know, Mum.  I just wanted her to introduce me to them.

Me: Well, how about we try this?  If Miss H wears something new that you haven’t seen before maybe you could say to her – “Miss H I see that you’re wearing new ear-rings?  I really like them” and then she might tell you more about the ear-rings.  That way you can have a polite chat with Miss H, give her a little compliment about her lovely ear-rings and then you won’t have to worry all day about it.  What do you think?

James: Sounds like a plan, Mum! (very common retort around this house! LOL!)

Incidentally … he has used this strategy many times since. He used this strategy when I’ve changed my perfume, when my Mum had been cleaning and she smelled like ‘the pool’, when Chris wore a new shirt and when his psychologist got a haircut!  Most other people wouldn’t even notice these things.  See … Autism superpowers strike again.  Honestly, I could tell story after story on this topic but I’m hoping some others amongst you might do that for me on my page? What kinds of things do your children perseverate about?

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