Having two sons on the Autism Spectrum is sometimes very tricky when it comes to dishing out consequences for bad behavior (or bad choices). Also, since they are at different places on the Spectrum, consequences are not treated equally. Well, at least that’s what my younger son said. Background: my older son presents with more impairment in vocal articulation and social engagement. My younger son, although he exhibits strong vocal skills and emerging social skills, his hyperactivity is extremely annoying to his older brother. I remember a time when my older son said, “I don’t like when he is in my room because he is loud and random.” By “random” he meant that his little brother was moving all of the time and his movements did not seem to have any purpose; they were just “random” movements. When big brother came to complain, Dad asked little brother to go to another room. Just recently, little brother said to Dad, “Why do you always support him, but not me? When I complain, you don’t do anything, but when he complains, you always make me leave.” Can we say that Dad got a wake-up call?!
Unknowingly, Dad was more accomodating to the child with more impairments in an attempt to be more fair and equitable. However, that’s not what it looked like to little brother. It looked as if Dad was playing favorites. When Dad and I talked about it, he admitted to being softer on big brother, but did not intend to play favorites. But why does greater impairment mean less consequences? Sometimes, as parents of a child with a disability, we might go softer because we think it is cruel to do anything else. Why hold them to a standard that they can’t live up to? The question is actually, “Why not?” When we remove consequences from their actions, they don’t learn to make good choices. For example, if you want your child to put on his coat and he refuses, let him go outside in the cold without his coat. Once the child experiences the cold, he might just ask for his coat independently (without prompting) because he now has learned the consequences of not putting it on.
I’m sure there are many more examples of when we enable instead of empower. How are you enabling your child with Autism? What consequences are you removing because of his impairments? How can you let him experience consequences necessary to learn? Of course, we tell ourselves that we are helping. But remember, if you help a butterfly out of its chrysallis, its wings do not become strong. Once outside, the butterfly cannot fly – all because it was “helped” and not allowed to experience the struggle necessary to fortify its wings for flight. Letting your butterfly grow strong might mean that you allow consequences to happen.