It can be overwhelming, with the wealth of information out there about parenting, to know how 'best' to parent our children. This issue is compounded when you have a child who is different to the general population in some way. Our oldest son is 8, and is autistic. We have been attempting to follow a responsive parenting approach since he was born, and thankfully discovered Hand in Hand Parenting when he was 5. With its practical tools, and emphasis on connection and emotional support (for children and parents!), we knew we'd stumbled upon something quite special!
We have seen remarkable effects from following this non-judgemental, non-prescriptive approach, and I will be sharing more about our journey with Hand in Hand and autism soon. In the meantime, the links at the end of this post will take you to posts about our journey so far, and members of our Journeys in Parenting community who have autistic children are also kindly showing up to share their own stories about using the Hand in Hand tools. Here is one from a remarkable mother, whose daughter is both autistic and has a pathological demand avoidance (PDA) profile. Using the tools is often the same for autistic children, but sometimes they need some subtle tweaks. Even with neurotypical children (i.e. those who are not autistic), we often find that different things work well for different children, and it's often a case of 'try it and see'. This mother has been researching and using the Hand in Hand tools for the last few years, and this is a wonderful story showing how she uses Staylistening with her daughter, in tandem with Listening Time for herself, in a way that gets the best results in terms of emotional release and getting back to clear thinking.
My autistic pda daughter (age 6) has very much reliance on me for her to feel any kind of stability in her world. She isn't able to stay with anyone but me. As she's got older this has got harder for her, as it has for the other adults to understand her needs which have changed a lot - and she's quick to big up if they have her in a safety net or not.
Anyways, I needed to attend a medical appt. So I spoke to her briefly the day before and she seemed ok to stay with nana (hesitantly).
In the morning (as I've also learned she mostly lives in the moment), I explained again and she said nope she won't stay with nana and I won't be going to my appointment.
I told her the 3 options: come with me and watch - she hates medical procedures; come with me and nana and wait in the waiting room; or stay with nana and I'll be back as quick as I can. She quietly glared at me. She then took off my feelings bracelet (we use for her to show me how happy or sad she's feeling), and threw it at me twice. I said nothing and kept my face gentle and not mad. I sat still on her bed and awaited her next move. She picked up the bracelet and threw it out the door. And then threw it into another bedroom.
The whole time I said nothing and sat still, and I kept my face and body language warm and loving. This is new that she wasn't hitting and kicking me, so progress.
Often I sit with my hands open, so she can see me but not too close and she will glare and eventually run into my arms, but this didn't happen today.
I did eventually say, 'I think you might be worried about me having a check up, so I want to say there's nothing bad going to happen and it's not going to hurt me and I'm not worried. I'm just looking after my body to make sure it's working at its best' - I've also learned she needs short explicit explanations about actions and feelings as she doesn't pick up on this herself.
I didn't distract and talk about how nana wants her to go (I can't put any demands on her) or how I have to have this done so what's her choice. I have to stay neutral and calm, informative and safe (I use Listening Time, and Emotional Freedom Techniques to help me with this, and a PDA Facebook group).
Eventually she said let's have breakfast while I think about it (her way of diffusing and moving on).
She marched around the kitchen in a circle saying 'I'm making my brain think'. I made breakfast and said nothing. She ate breakfast (with YouTube babysitter!) and I showered. When I came downstairs, she said 'I'll go to nanas to play chasing games in the garden'.
This was 10 mins before I had to leave! Lucky nana was on standby and has been learning about PDA.
I was amazed. This was her version of a meltdown (she shuts down and doesn't communicate). I drip feed information like that I know she's safe and that I believe in her and that no one is mad at her. And ultimately I do have to be prepared to find a million solutions (often hers are the best!). This is my version of Staylistening and it happens many times a day over her clothes not being right or a game we role play doesn't match the script she's copying from the film or she doesn't want me to shower. Often we move into Playlistening if I can find a way to be silly about the situation.
Her grounding and basic needs are high for her to feel safe. It takes a lot of Listening Time and self care for me to be in a good place. I couldn't have done this without Hand in Hand!!
The following is a list of posts on our own personal experience of parenting responsively with our son - I have divided them under the Hand in Hand tools where appropriate, so that if you are working on a particular tool you can find resources quickly and easily:
- What an autism diagnosis means for us
- Facing up to a possible autism diagnosis
- Talking less - to feel more
- Using group support to work through strong feelings around my son's birth
- Special Time allows me to really enjoy my son's personality
- Setting a limit allows my son to work through frustrations - working through frustrations can be a big challenge and sometimes we need to set a limit to allow the big feelings out, before a child can think clearly. On this occasion, my feeling was that our son needed to 'come back' from the edge rather than release, in order to be able to move forwards
And these were written before my Hand in Hand days, but may help to give a picture of where we were at:
- Needing a hug - all about things getting tough for me one day, and how our oldest responded
- The thanks you get - hearing my son accepting my apology for not being the calmest mummy!
- Evening routine brainstorm! - taking time out to plan for predictably difficult times
- Staying Calm!! - how avoiding blame and recrimination helped our son realise a mistake
- Blood, apologies, and compassion - again, how compassion comes out of staying calm