W24: A Matter of Will

At ten years old, Thomas finally learned to ride a bike yesterday. After trying and failing to teach him when he was younger, we left cycling on the back burner. It was another entry of the list of things he wasn’t yet ready to do and, with him being our first and only child  (never mind our first experience of autism), we had no idea when or if he would learn. The list of things he couldn’t do or didn’t seem able to pick up was lengthy:

  • Remembering to eat and drink regularly
  • Remembering to visit the toilet regularly
  • Noticing that he needs to go to the toilet
  • Accepting changes in temperature and accepting different clothes according to different temperatures instead of having a major tantrum because he wants long trousers and long sleeves on the hottest day of the year as he has been wearing long clothes all winter and spring so why change now? Who cares about sweat and passing out from heat exhaustion?
  • Drinking without spilling liquid on himself or the floor
  • Eating without dropping food all over himself and the floor
  • Remembering to wipe his bottom before leaving the bathroom
  • Remembering to pull his trousers and pants up and wash his hands before leaving the bathroom instead of waddling out, pants around ankles, eager to have a chat
  • Wiping his bottom and washing his hands immediately after pooping, rather than spending another 45 minutes in the bathroom playing and chatting to himself and daydreaming until everyone else is desperate to go and banging on the door
  • Listening to instructions and sitting still during gym club (we ended up quitting because he was disruptive to the rest of the class)
  • Following instructions of any kind
  • Waiting patiently in queues instead of pushing to the front or wandering off because he is bored (we had to leave trampoline club because he couldn’t wait his turn)
  • Not wandering off in shops because he is bored and expecting me to notice and follow him immediately
  • Looking both ways before crossing roads
  • Not putting Blu-Tac in his hair or other peoples’ hair
  • Not breaking pencil leads in the gaps between two desks for the joy of hearing the snap and then wasting time going to sharpen the pencils (repeatedly if allowed)
  • Not pulling threads on garments or soft furnishings because they are tantalising and irresistible (many, many saggy socks and ruined items as a result)
  • Not crying because he can’t have a hot water bottle in Spring as he has been used to having one all Winter
  • Remembering to come home with his lunch box and water bottle, gloves, hat, coat, anything not physically attached to him
  • Following the swimming instructor’s instructions instead of going rogue and doing whatever the hell he likes for half an hour (we ended up quitting because it was pointless taking him when he made no progress whatsoever)
  • Remembering how to do up a zipper – still can’t manage. Zips are designated “faulty” if stiff and coat is left open.
  • Remembering to get dressed at all when told to; unless chased every five minutes he will remain naked or semi naked and chatting to himself, potentially for hours. I have waited to see how long it would take him to get dressed in WINTER and it was three hours before eventually I cracked and had to insist because he was getting cold. It’s a case of mind over matter, he simply doesn’t feel the cold if he’s engrossed
  • Remembering not to stand naked in front of his bedroom window now he is no longer a toddler and it is not “cute” any more to expose oneself in all one’s glory
  • Handwriting skills – his handwriting is still mostly erratically sized and spaced and definitely not at the required level for his age

Most entries on this list are not so frequently an issue any more but I would say that none of them are totally a thing of the past. Now consider the list of things he HAS achieved:

  • How to use the internet
  • How to operate the TV and DVD player
  • How to operate his Wii
  • How to use a tablet/phone for games
  • How to succeed at practically every sport on Wii Sport and Wii Sports Resort
  • Learning the names of characters in series he likes, their background history and every single detail of information about them
  • Remembering when he is due a treat or reward
  • How to ride a bike
  • How to play draughts
  • Factual information from school lessons

Most of these items require skill, concentration, focus, perseverance, patience and desire. Isn’t it funny how blatant children are at putting their all into something they want but failing unless pushed at something they have no interest in? It’s shameless. I admire his total lack of chagrin as he waddles back into the bathroom to finish wiping his bottom, still shouting his story at me through the bathroom door because it Just. Can’t. Wait!

Autistic children are no different to other children; they will learn what they want, when they want and you have to find the right motivation. I discovered Thomas really enjoys earning rewards, so we introduced “Home Points”, complementing the “House Point” system used in his school. When he does well (follows instructions, tries something new, is brave, does something quickly, gets praised at school, etc) he gets a Home Point. A certain number of home points earn treats. I use circular plastic tokens for Home Points and a plastic jar to collect them in, as the school does. I had tried stickers and stars in the past but they did not have the same impact. Something about handling the tokens and seeing the jar fill up seems to motivate him. A full jar of HPs gets a big reward. He loves putting them in his jar and it does seem to focus his mind on the desired result.

As soon as he does something good or I start to praise him, he gets the look and pipes up “Is it worth a home point?” and then we haggle over how many it’s worth. He’s quite the canny negotiator. He really does make me laugh.

Public domain picture by Tumisu at Pixabay.com

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