Parents frequently confide to me when they have lost their patience. Fathers as well as mothers share their guilt and their heartbreak when this occurs. As one mother said to me recently, "My mother yelled at us, and I vowed to never yell at my children. Now I'm becoming a yeller. What's wrong?"
Just last week a father told me about how he lost it with his four-year-old son with Asperger's. After picking up his son from school, he stopped at the convenience store for his wife to pick up milk for the next day's breakfast. His son did not want to stop and had a full-scale meltdown. When he didn’t calm down, his father started yelling at him. Now just a few days later, his father was wracked with guilt.
This father like other parents felt guilty. I assured him that his reaction was not unusual and did not indicate that he was a bad parent just because he lost his patience. He told me that his son had made tremendous progress since being diagnosed over a year ago, and he just couldn't understand this.
I briefly discussed with him that difficulty regulating emotions was more often than not one of the challenges that goes along with being diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Changes in routine, such as stopping at the store, can often be a trigger. This occurs all along the spectrum from mild to moderate to severe.
By the end of our counseling session together, this father looked at me and came to his own conclusion. "I have been expecting too much. That's the lesson I'm learning. I have to do better at managing my expectations; that's the only way I can remain patient during situations like this."
Of course this sounds simple, but in the moment it is easier said than done. In order to manage expectations, it is important to understand the individual developmental profile of your child. The best way to understand this is to learn everything possible about your child's diagnosis and communicate regularly with your child's teachers and therapists.
In terms of your expectations about yourself, let's be clear: it is normal to struggle with your patience in challenging situations. So the next time your child has a meltdown, take a breath—or two or three. Then ask yourself what you're expecting and how reasonable that is in the moment you are presently in with your child.
Moment by moment, day by day, being mindful of these issues, you and your child will both grow.