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Autism news: How to deal with demanding behavior... Behavior Problems Part 8
March 04, 2020

Does this type of situation sound familiar to you?

“When can we take a drive to the coast?” he asked.

“I’m not sure, Jake. I’m not able to drive until I recover from my injuries. We’ll see in a month or two,” Mom answered.

“But I have to get to the coast. The coastal air makes me feel better,” he said.

“I’m sorry. I can’t drive to the coast in my condition. You’ll just have to wait until we can get there later.”

“What if you drive a short ways at a time and take a lot of breaks?”

“No, I don’t feel ready to drive that far, even with breaks.”

“How about a bus? I could take a bus,” he said.

He was old enough to take the bus by himself, but Mom still didn’t think it was wise to consent to this request.

“No, I don’t want you to take the bus. The bus station is in a dangerous part of town. And I wouldn’t be able to come and pick you up if you got lost or became stranded. You’ll just have to wait.”

“I think I can take a bus.”

“I don’t want you to take a bus….”

This conversation continued with numerous attempts by “Jake” to find a way to get to the coast.

Normally Mom didn’t mind if Jake asked for something once or twice. But his “I’ll find a way to get my way no matter what” strategy was turning into a demanding attitude.

If this sounds familiar to you, you aren’t alone. Many children, especially those with autism, can become demanding on occasion, even if they are normally well-behaved.

Why do I say, “especially those with autism”?

Because children with autism will often get stuck into a routine by their very nature, and so demand to keep things the same. Or they may get used to having their way every time, and get into a rut that way.

Or they might get used to an idea that they just can’t let go of, as we saw in Jake’s conversation with his mom.

Knowing that our kids with autism are more prone to being demanding, we should definitely be understanding and patient with them.

But it’s also important to understand that giving our kids their way all the time isn’t good for them, either.

In Jake’s situation, Mom knew that even if she had been able to drive to the coast, she shouldn’t give in to his demands. If she did, she would actually be rewarding his behavior. For the sake of teaching him to be well-behaved, it would be better to reschedule the trip for another time.

As you may know, rewarding a child for his or her behavior will lead to more of the same conduct.

So if Mom gave in to Jake’s begging, she would actually be teaching Jake to be demanding whenever he wanted his way.

This principle may seem obvious to some, but when parents are caught in the moment of a difficult situation, it may be hard to see that.

For example, if Johnny is screaming because Mom won’t buy him candy at the store, she may be tempted to say, “Okay, you can have it,” and then hand him the candy just to stop him from making a scene in the store. The mission in her mind is to stop the screaming at all costs.

But Mom may not understand that she just gave Johnny a reward for screaming. Now he knows that whenever he wants something, all he has to do is throw a fit, and his desires will be granted.

So Mom can expect to get more of that same behavior from Johnny in the future.

What should Mom do instead?

If she wants the screaming to stop for good, she should make it clear to Johnny that if he screams, he definitely WON’T get what he wants. And she shouldn’t give in to his screaming, no matter how tempted she is to cave in to his demands.

And there are other ways to deal with the awkward scene at the store, such as bringing him outside until he calms down.

It would also help for her to set up some guidelines or rules for Johnny, and to teach him the right way to ask for what he wants. Johnny should also understand that he may sometimes get his way if he asks nicely, but not all the time.

He might need a reward for asking politely the first and second time to reinforce good manners. After that, she could give him his way occasionally, whenever it's convenient for her.

Of course, there are exceptions to these principles. For example, if “David” is having a meltdown and he knows that orange juice will help him feel better, Mom should give him orange juice right away.

In this case, David isn’t being demanding, even though it may look that way. He’s feeling agitated because of a physical problem.

I hope these guidelines will be helpful for your family. Because autism can cause of a lot of temptations for children to be demanding.

In my next message, I plan to share a common, everyday technique that I find to be quite useful for teaching my younger son not to be demanding. So stay tuned…

Warm Regards,

Kay Donato

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