Saturday, November 10, 2012

Middle Ground - Receiving Gifts

I am constantly wondering if it’s just Damien, or if this is just an autism thing. It often seems like parents of children with autism talk mainly about their children’s accomplishments, but very little seems to be said on actual challenges and difficulties that the child may be having.

Definitely, social skills suffer when a child has autism, but there are other things much deeper and much more serious that negatively affect social skills and may make the child become more ostracized than those who are typically developing. Though there are many with Damien, there is one that interests me greatly.

I’m talking about Damien not being able to find that middle ground. Everything to him is black and white, and the grey area does not exist. This has caused great difficulty in the Brown family household. It has had an effect that makes family gatherings and outings particularly difficult. Here’s how it all started:

You know how parents start teaching children from a young age how to be polite and try to curb rude behaviors in the process. That is exactly what we had been trying to do with Damien over a series of years. When Damien was four, we really started trying to get him to understand that it is rude to ask for everything in the store. We also tried to teach him that it is ruder to throw temper tantrums when he didn’t get his way. Like I said, for years we tried to drill some manners into the poor child.

Regrettably, what we have taught Damien has seemed to backfire. Now, he feels it is rude to even get a gift. He will tell people that he doesn’t want the gifts they give him, and he often refuses to order food in a restaurant because he doesn’t want anyone to spend money on him. He feels that it is “a waste of money” for others to spend money on him. For the last several years, holidays and birthdays have been miserable for all of us. Sadly, we have spent the last few years trying our hardest to teach Damien to accept gifts graciously.

We have been working on getting him to understand that his birthday is not “just another day” and “not something people should celebrate.” I told Damien that birthdays are the proof to the world that you have made it another year, and that the human body is so frail is more reason than enough to celebrate. I also explained to him that his birthday was not “just another day” to me because it is the best day I have ever had in my entire life. After being told I could not have children, I gave birth to him and then a year later I gave birth to Dylan, which both have made me very happy.

Unfortunately, his behavior is not limited to receiving gifts. Damien does not want any recognition for any of his accomplishments. He threw a fit because they gave him recognition at his school last week saying, “It wasn’t me that did anything. I was just doing what you and my teachers told me to do. If anyone deserves to be recognized, it’s them and you.”

We spent all afternoon discussing his negative behavior. I explained to him that he has accomplished much on his own without our help whatsoever. I taught him the meaning behind the parable, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” I made clear that his teachers and I only provide the tools. We only are able to put them in front of him, and he is the one who has to choose as to whether-or-not he uses those tools. I told him that his accomplishments are the result of all of his hard work throughout the years. I clarified that sure all of the therapists at West Texas Rehab and Argabright Communications, all of the teachers both regular education and special education, and I have played a part in the accomplishments, but it was his sheer determination that helped him to conquer the obstacles he has overcome.

I also explained to him when he gets nominated for an award or is given an award for something and he refuses the reward that he makes the person who has decided he is worthy to feel awful and insulted. Therefore, I am making him to write a letter of partial disclosure and full apologies. I told him he must tell them he is sorry for his actions and behaviors. I said he should also partially disclose the fact that he has autism, and though it is not an excuse, it is part of the reason he reacted in such a manner. I said that he must explain how proper social interaction is the biggest obstacle he has ever had before him, and how it is also the obstacle he has yet to overcome, but he is working on his social skills.

I am hoping that, this time, I have gotten through to him. So far, it seems that Damien has started listening. Damien did accept his gifts graciously yesterday and did not act as if he didn’t deserve the gifts or dinner. I think that realizing his actions weren’t making life better for us as he thought he was doing has helped him to know it’s okay to say thank you and enjoy being recognized for everything that he has accomplished. I am truly keeping my fingers crossed on this one and hoping it sticks.

I am interested in learning if any of you with children with autism have had similar difficulties and would love to hear your stories as well.

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