The average guy finds it hard to sit still and listen. We jump to problem solving especially when we lack the words to express what we are experiencing. Yet we yearn for connection with our children. On July 7, I moderated “Guy Talk: Fathers Roundtable” at www.autismbrainstorm.org with 7 guys who spoke openly about their struggles to be present with their children.
- Start where the child is. Watch, wait, observe. You will often find out something unexpected that you can build on.
- Avoid interrupting; this makes it hard for one’s children and wife. Learn to listen and wait until people finish what they are saying. Interrupting usually comes from thinking about what you're going to do or say instead of being present with what the other is saying. Try to allow a pause after someone finishes speaking in order to avoid interrupting.
- It can be frustrating to engage a child who prefers video games. Limit screen time. In the summer, there is more unscheduled free time which may be more challenging.
- When a child has a physical disability it forces a father to pay attention since she needs hand over hand assistance with everything, but there can still be a lot of frustration.
- Besides being patient and listening, show interest by asking a question when there is a small pause. Get your child to explain what he is interested in. Learn the names of the characters in their favorite movie, etc. We may have to accept that we do not like the activity in order to interact with our child.
- Showing interest in what your child is interested in is key. To ask a child to enter our world, we have to enter his first.
- Real life with a child with special needs is different from the epiphany that one might see in the Hollywood version. There is no magical transformation. Rather something happens between you and your child and you want to change, to be a better person, more patient.
- Sometimes we can be impatient for our child to learn a simple skill as such swinging in the playground. We may just have to be patient and wait until our child figures it out. By taking this approach a father can enjoy himself and his child in the moment.
Moments of frustration can be transformed when we are able to stay calm and change into a problem solving mode. This can be a lens of opportunity which enables us to figure things out. So what about a meltdown when a kid is freaking out? In our guy talk, the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown was discussed.
- The tantrum suggests communicating the intent to get something whereas a meltdown is an overload whether sensory, emotional, or cognitive. Both call for the adult to be calm and receptive in order to help a child to organize herself. It's important to wait it out and talk about it later. The child's sensory profile may be a key to understanding a meltdown.
- Presence means controlling yourself and providing calm thereby modeling what it means to de-escalate from the meltdown and sending the message that we are in it together. When it's over we will figure it out and where to go from here. If possible, find a way to buffer the overload or help the child get out of it. It is essential to use our relationship during the hardest times to figure out our options.
So raising a child with autism or other special needs is moment by moment. Average guys show their love and support through action, but sometimes pausing by stepping back and being there calm and present is the first step. When action is called for, this pause can help men to use our desire to find solutions more effectively.
The contributors this Fathers’ Roundtable included:
Stephen Shore http://www.autismasperger.net/
Brian Mangini http://afatherslove.co/
Brain King http://brianraymondking.com/
Kaveh Adel www.Boyandredballoon.com
The next “Guy Talk” is Sunday, August 4, at 9:00 PM Eastern. The topic will be the male perspective on dealing with anger.