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Autism Deserves Better Responses From Adults

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With the news of Jaelen Edge's death, we hear yet another report of an autistic child being killed by a parent. We must recognize our own responsibilities as adults to keep our children safe.

An adult's response to an autistic child's upset is the single, most important factor in whether the child's upset is escalated or calmed. We must remain calm. We must understand -- at a gut level -- that the child's reaction, whether to yell, hit, bite or flail, is frustration, and that is all. Our children are disoriented by their emotions, frustrated by communication. It is not personal. It is not hate. It is merely frustration.

When we begin to feel strong emotions in response to our children's actions -- like sadness, upset, anger, fear or resentment -- we need to calm ourselves for the immediate moment. However you need to do that -- by breathing, talking to yourself, repeating a mantra. For the long-term, you will need to do the hard work of exploring those feelings and the reasons behind them.

Our physical response is just as important. If our children see us reacting in disorienting ways -- like crouching, putting up our hands as if to ward off hits or crying -- it will frighten them even further. Trying to control our child's behaviors through physical restraint also escalates the situation. Imagine how you would feel as a child if you were already disoriented and your parent's actions looked even scarier. Remember to calm, soothe. We are our child's compass.

Know what soothes your child: physical things like running water, a fan, their bedroom, low light, a tent, blanket, a stuffed animal. But also, let them stomp, stamp, slam doors, hit pillows, throw stuffed animals -- there are many safe outlets for frustration. And they do need outlets. We can't just clamp down on them and negate all outlets for them. Imagine if you couldn't vent -- you'd feel like exploding.

We need to hold the adults in our children's lives accountable for their reactions and how those reactions escalate our children's anxiety. Teachers, therapists, behaviorists - do they put their hands on your child, even to direct them? Do they give your child ways to vent? When the child gets frustrated, are they forced to sit back at a table and do a task or are they given recovery time? Are they labeling your child violent instead of frustrated? Are they blaming the child instead of acknowledging their own role in the escalation?

Our children react to being forced. They react when there is too much direction and too little connection. They react with frustration when the relationship isn't working. They react with their own will as they try out independence. When our child is not treated as her own person, with her own preferences, thoughts, opinions and boundaries, she will put up resistance.

If the therapy our child does sets us up for conflict, no matter how beneficial we are told it is, we need to refuse it. If we are told our child is "violent" simply because he reacts to force with frustration, we need to reject that. We parents have the right to demand peaceful, loving, connecting ways to raise our children.