Nurture by definition means to care for and protect (someone or something) while they are growing.
Everyone everywhere ‘grows’ through life, we grow in many different ways, height, strength, character and ability are a few examples of growth we experience. We all require and benefit from nurturing, we all need care and protection.
One of my little people is having quite a tough time at present. Recently I have been pushed to my limits, in the last week I have felt, overwhelmed, exhausted and at times alone. In my last post I lost my way… I wrote about how I forgot briefly the guidance I try to keep at the forefront of everything I do as a parent to three little people with differing additional needs…
“The children who need love the most will always ask for it in the most unloving ways”
When a child has a neurodevelopmental condition such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) they in my experience have significant difficulties in communicating effectively their needs and concerns for example, the need for help when something is wrong, the need to share a concern with another. It took myself well into my teenage years and early twenties to be able to actually ask someone verbally for help, sometimes I didn’t know what I needed I just knew everything felt wrong. It is really difficult to explain and put into words. I have always been verbally able as have my children but we all struggle significantly with communicating feelings in particular and needs.
Due to the difficulties in communicating experienced by these children, often the need for your help, your time and your love will be asked for in the most unobvious, disruptive and challenging of ways. I was always in trouble as a child. Always for being disruptive or lashing out, I was renowned for throwing the nearest thing to me before bolting out the nearest door chairs, tables anything in my path got launched! I could never explain why I behaved this way. With reflection as an adult on nearly all occasions what I wanted was someone to help me with something.
Behaviour is communication, what is extremely difficult when working with, supporting and living with Spectrum children is the behaviour being displayed often communicates totally the wrong message. Leading to very confused and frustrated parents/carers and often as equally confused and frustrated children! Even though I have experienced as a child and still do experience difficulties communicating now I am an adult. As a parent I am often left bemused scratching my head in desperate search of answers. I always try to remember though my behaviour was often interpreted as aggressive or confrontational, when I am neither of these things, I just wanted a path away from the overwhelming feelings of frustration and anger at not knowing what to do in a situation.
The answer is simple but oh so complicated as a parent what I need to do to help my children is nurture, nurture, nurture and even more nurture! As a child what I needed was to be nurtured. What I often received was punishment on top of punishment, it got to the point I was trapped in a negative cycle, it has taken decades to undo the damage that caused.
It is logical, children with Spectrum conditions as little people almost have to ‘grow’ much, much more and for a much longer timeframe than neurotypical children to compensate for and overcome the difficulties their conditions create for them. Some will have to find altogether completely different ways to communicate if non verbal. I still think of my own brain as a computer running a different operating system to others, if I am a Mac they are a Windows PC! I am constantly reprogramming my brain to be compatible with the wider world. I watch my own children doing exactly the same things. One advantage of having been there, done that and owning many, many t-shirts of experience is I can sometimes offer the right guidance to my children in how to overcome a situation, instead of leaving them to spend months as I did trying to puzzle out the right answers or solution.
My little person who is struggling has been indicating for sometime through increasingly difficult behaviour that something in their world was very wrong. In the last few weeks we have experienced from this child the need to be very controlling around food, clothing and personal hygiene routines, we see this controlling behaviour emerge when they feel other things in their life such as friendships, school and events are overwhelming and out-with their control.
One big issue for my child has been for many years their additional needs were severely misunderstood, this has caused significant damage to an already fragile self esteem and left them very untrusting of adult professionals.
As parents we have been on the receiving end of some really awful verbal insults from this child. This child’s tolerance towards their siblings has been extremely low, resulting in far more moments of conflict than are the norm. This child has re raised their barriers and is currently firmly entrenched behind them. They are well and truly pushing everyone away.
I feel we have been riding this current storm for endless weeks with little let up.
I always try to remember though that, whilst yes it is tough for everyone around my little person, it is 100 percent harder for them caught in the midst of it all. Right now they are stuck in what is an overwhelming confusion of emotions and feelings they can’t make sense of.
Their behaviour is communicating to me something is far wrong. This is where the mantra “pick your battles” comes in I never shout, I totally ignore the insults, my little person is struggling, what good will come of shouting at them or humiliating them?
I have been criticised on occasion for not using punitive consequences for challenging behaviour. I know from bitter experience that often my child will punish themselves far harder for their mistakes especially the ones that seem obviously avoidable to others or for mistakes not learned from previously. There are always consequences for all our actions and reactions, I feel it far more productive to impose as a consequence that my child and I sit down together and talk it through, this often involves them having to find the courage to talk about their feelings and accept they are ultimately responsible for their actions. Let’s try and unpick where it all went wrong, let me help equip my child with the tools they need to try and avoid making the same mistakes again.
Once, not so long ago I can remember sitting in a meeting about my child’s totally out of control behaviour, being told they were choosing to behave this way that the only way forward was to be strict and firm with what others deemed meaningful consequences. All that was achieved was a wedge was driven between my child and I, their self esteem, confidence and self belief dropped even further than I thought possible. The imposed consequences of removing activities took away precious opportunities for my child to gain and practice their social skills and left them with absolutely no incentive to even try to behave! My child and I at that time quite literally hated each other. I for a short while bought into the theory their behaviour was their choice. My child saw me as the bad guy. I was parenting against my instincts. I turned into my own parent something I had vowed on discovering I was pregnant for the first time all those years ago never ever to do.
Now whilst I am nowhere near a perfect parent my child and I now have a good relationship. We talk a lot about anything and everything, sometimes I wish they would apply just a little bit of a filter, discussing sex education in the local supermarket was interesting. My child will come to me and in a round about way try to ask for help with problems. They know I won’t shout, they know I will listen, they know I will try to understand, they know I might not like what they have done but I will always try to help them through.
Nurturing at home is one thing but what Spectrum children need is nurturing in all environments including schools, communities and by wider society. They need to stop being judged on the negative image conjured up from the stereotyping of their conditions. So many jump straight to the conclusion a child with ADHD is bad, uneducable and a product of poor parenting. I have suggested to my child they tell their peers they have ADHD, my child would rather have their peers believe they were trouble than explain the real reason they struggle. My child knows society’s perception of ADHD is unkind and ignorant, my child feels ADHD is something they should feel ashamed of. ADHD just like ASD is a neurodevelopmental condition, there are physical and chemical differences within an ADHD brain responsible for the differences demonstrated through development and behaviour by those affected. Spectrum children need patience, understanding, acceptance, love and celebrating, all three of my Spectrum children have unique talents all have huge potential to achieve great things, to do that though they will require nurturing in school, our community and society.