Learning tough love with an autistic child.

We are celebrating our son’s 11th year birthday in a couple of months and we have seen Matthew experience many things in his young life and seen him have his fair share of struggles and difficult days. He has also had his share of good days and it is our hope that as he continues to grow he will have more good days than difficult ones.

I have a lot of love and a deep understanding for my son and what he goes through. I have seen the aftermath of one of his seizures and how it literally knocks him out. The last seizure he had resulted in him having to stay home from school because he slept for the next 6 hours and was not in condition to function at school. It is very alarming and it really makes you worry because if it happens in school or outside and we are not there we are relying on someone being there to help him through it and that is a completely helpless feeling and I hope it will never happen. We have encountered him having a seizure on a school field trip when he was younger and he had to be taken to the hospital.

Our son exhibits on occasion behavior that is considered unacceptable in a classroom setting and he has been suspended from his previous school on several occasions because he could not control himself and he had to stay at home for as long as a week. It is very frustrating to us because we need to have our son properly schooled and we also know that he has to learn how to conduct himself in the classroom. Matthew is on medication and is under a doctor’s care for his neurological condition and his mental condition. We as parents are sensitive to his needs and to all the medication he is prescribed. We rely on the doctors and the advice of the school district and we are working with all to help keep our son in school so he can learn and grow. We are also working with a parent trainer who counsels us and offers suggestions in trying to communicate more effectively with Matthew. We encourage good behavior from Matthew and reward him for it but his behavior has to be consistent both at home and in school. If he proves to us that he is improving and his teachers are finding that he is doing better than we reward him with tickets that he redeems for a prize. It seems to work but we need him to know that he should behave in school naturally and should not have to be rewarded to behave well. It should be automatic.

I have mixed feelings about tough love because my son has a lot of medical concerns and I worry for him. I do however realize that he has to follow rules and listen to his teachers and he can not act up in class. He must learn to listen. At times I do get frustrated when I read the teacher’s report and see that Matthew had a difficult day following instruction. Therefore I feel I must be stern with him and speak firmly to make him aware that the behavior that is getting him in trouble can not be tolerated and he has to learn to settle down, listen to his teachers and conduct himself in a proper manner. Maria seems to lose patience with him at times and does yell. I try to stay calm and explain to Matthew that if he does not behave he faces the risk of being suspended and if this continues he will have a difficult time staying in school and may have to be home schooled which we are not prepared for and if that was the outcome he would lose all opportunity of being socialized and this would set him so far back. It is very upsetting to me to see my son have such difficulties and I am trying to reach out to others for guidance. I feel my son is a wonderful child who deserves an education and requires someone who can understand him and help him through the difficulties. I am not versed in understanding the mind of a child but I do know that autistic children have a lot more needs and experience a lot more difficulties.

I am working with my wife to help guide Matthew and teach him and show him how to be responsible and to listen and follow instruction. It is so important that he understand this and start to realize it because the teachers are not as understanding when you reach a certain age as they expect proper behavior. I sometimes feel like I am not effectively getting my point across to my son and feel that if he does not learn to behave he will have problems as it will be difficult for him to remain in school. I am somewhat surprised giving the high incidence of autism that the schools are still having difficulty in providing for these kids who have these types of struggles. I will continue to show Matthew my displeasure with his poor behavior if it persists and I will have to take stricter measures as this is his education at stake and I want him to get a good education and learn and conduct himself in the proper way both at home and in school. If it is tough love I will need to use then it will be tough love and I will have to find the right way to implement it as I love my son very much and I want to see him doing well.

As I understand it tough love is a strict and tough approach in dealing with your child and the situation in this case poor behavior that requires discipline, stern discussion and possibly a spanking to show love for your child and disciplinary action.

I wish talking with an autistic child was easier and not so emotionally draining as it seems to be and there were more people out there who understood what our son goes through as he is a wonderful child and is very bright and is dealing with autism, epilepsy and adhd.

Edward D. Iannielli III

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