How to handle obsessions and black/white thinking - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 22 Old 10-10-2011, 09:13 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Hi everyone,

My 7 yo ASD son has always gotten stuck on things, where he obsesses about them and can do/think about little else.  Our current obsession is playing our new Wii.  He particularly likes the Lego Star Wars game.  He's lost interest in everything else--even in decorating for Halloween, which is (was?) always his favorite holiday.  When he's not playing he just wants to get back to it--when we're taking a walk or visiting friends, he just wants to talk about the game and/or ask when we'll be going back home.

 

Some of the time he's really enjoying himself and is so excited by the game and his mastery of it, but often he gets so frustrated that he melts down into a tantrum or intense anger.  We are unschoolers and try to let ds make his own choices and set his own limits, but I'm finding that it's not working very well with an ASD child who has very little patience or impulse control and tends to think only in black and white terms.  For example, he'll play until he gets a headache or stomach ache.  

 

When I suggest that ds take a break or get some distance from the game, he says we should just sell it--if he can't play as much as he wants, then he doesn't want to play at all.  

 

I really don't know what to do--take it away all together, set some strict limits, or just let him work it out.  On the one hand, he needs to learn how to moderate his behavior and find the "gray area" in situations, and by taking away the games I don't give him a chance to do that.  But in the past when I've tried to limit other obsessions, he just pushes *constantly* to get more--if anything, it creates a bigger obsession.  Which is exactly what many unschoolers would say-- he needs to be in control his own choices, and if I set limits it'll make his desire for it even greater.  

 

I want ds to be happy and healthy, and I'm just not sure the video games are contributing to this.  How do you teach a child to find moderation in life when it doesn't come naturally?

 

What have others of you done in this situation? 

 

Thanks, Kelly

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#2 of 22 Old 10-10-2011, 10:11 AM
 
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Originally Posted by Ex Libris View Post

 

When I suggest that ds take a break or get some distance from the game, he says we should just sell it--if he can't play as much as he wants, then he doesn't want to play at all.  

 

 

Actually, I think that's a pretty mature way of thinking about it and it would be perfectly fine with me. Not all people are capable of moderation with all things. It may be that neurologically he's not a person who can moderate with video games at this point in his life. While maybe most people can, he's not most people and there is reason to suspect that people with ASD would have more trouble with self regulation and perhaps more neurological affect from video games. Knowing what you can handle and making decisions based on that understanding is a perfectly healthy and okay way to live. I don't keep out dishes of M&Ms in my house because I don't moderate well with them. I don't like how I feel as they sit there on the counter calling to me and I don't like how I feel after I eat them. I don't believe a person needs to eat a moderate amount of M&Ms to be healthy. For me healthy is realizing that I'm happier without M&Ms in the house. That reflects self awareness and accurate self understanding.

 

I question if radical unschooling works well for kids who have neurological disabilities that affect the ability to self regulate. I suspect for many seven year olds with ASD, radical unschooling doesn't provide adequate structure, routine, or limits. If you are naturally really out of regulation in your own body and emotions it is really asking a lot to say you could figure out what it would feel like for you to be regulated. Some outside structure can provide a way for you to learn what that feels like and over time you may be able to put that into place yourself.

 

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#3 of 22 Old 10-10-2011, 11:29 AM
 
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I question if radical unschooling works well for kids who have neurological disabilities that affect the ability to self regulate. I suspect for many seven year olds with ASD, radical unschooling doesn't provide adequate structure, routine, or limits. If you are naturally really out of regulation in your own body and emotions it is really asking a lot to say you could figure out what it would feel like for you to be regulated. Some outside structure can provide a way for you to learn what that feels like and over time you may be able to put that into place yourself.

 



This was my thoughts as well.  Some kids cannot function without structure.  The great thing about homeschooling is that you can tailor it to fit your child precisely.  The downside is that sometimes we think that its a matter of what sounds good to the parent.  I have made that mistake with a couple of my kids.  Unschooling is awesome, IF it fits that child's temperment, abilities, etc.   

 

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#4 of 22 Old 10-10-2011, 12:18 PM - Thread Starter
 
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What a thoughtful reply, Roar.  I had never thought about his response as being mature, I think b/c he doesn't really mean it.  He's said this with other things, and when I say "OK, let's stop doing that," he throws a huge fit.  I think he's just testing me, wanting me to say, "No, we don't have to stop doing that."  But I think it does represent a certain level of maturity and self-awareness for him to even suggest it.  I do think that, deep down, he knows these obsessions are not good for him.  And maybe he's waiting for me, the big, (supposedly) mature person to guide him into making healthy choices.

 

"I don't believe a person needs to eat a moderate amount of M&Ms to be healthy."

 

This quote is key for me.  You're right, with some things, for some people, even a moderate amount is too much.  This makes sense when I think about our family history, too.  Addiction runs in both sides of ds's family, and some people just have to stay completely away from certain temptations. 

 

I guess I'd just been thinking about it from a parenting/teaching perspective--that it was part of my job as a parent to teach him how to moderate his desires and emotions, to find the middle ground.  But you're saying that physiology could trump that.  Interesting.  Given our genetics, this is probably true, and ds would do well to learn now that certain things aren't healthy and might better be avoided. 

 

You also seem to be saying that no one really needs a moderate amount of anything to be healthy (basic needs aside, of course).  I had that old adage "all things in moderation" stuck in my brain, for some reason.  Again, that made me think I needed to teach ds how to live by this "rule."  But I think you're correct that he may never be able to moderate with video games or any of the other things he gets an unhealthy fixation on.

 

Dh and I have been doubting whether unschooling is right for our son for the very reasons you mention.   Perhaps our focus should be on teaching regulation by providing some structure and limits, as opposed to expecting him to figure it out on his own.  We can keep it light and fun, and still offer plenty of choices, but within a healthy, predictable routine.  I suspect that this will help bring back some balance in his life.

 

Many thanks for your kind and wise words,

 

Kelly

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#5 of 22 Old 10-10-2011, 12:54 PM
 
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I'm so glad my comments were helpful.

 

I don't think you need give up entirely on unschooling ideas. Being respectful and listening to your child are really at the core and that is absolutely something you can keep with you as explore more structure and limits.

 

Personally I don't think all "obsessions" are unhealthy. Certainly there are many people with ASD who have had successful careers that are within a field of obsession. I think particularly with a young kid I would differentiate between an obsessive interest and something like being a consumer of a game or movie. Some obsessions can be really helpful as a starting place for social interaction and expanding into new ideas and experiences. It seems clear though that this isn't what is happening with this video game. Instead he seems to be feeling bad as a result of it. Sometimes when kids are in that place it may be initially upsetting but ultimately a sweet relief to be freed of the burden of it. They may not be able to ask for it, but they still feel better once they can move on.

 

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#6 of 22 Old 10-10-2011, 06:17 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Originally Posted by queenofchaos View Post

Unschooling is awesome, IF it fits that child's temperment, abilities, etc.   

 


This is where I doubt myself. I don't always feel like I know what would best serve him.  Do I push him to do things that are difficult, uncomfortable, or against his nature?  Or would that be, as you say, "a matter of what sounds good to the parent"?  

 

For example, his immediate reaction to everything I suggest is "No."  He doesn't like to try new things.  Sometimes I've pushed him to try something and it's turned out great (gymnastics classes, for example, which he loved after having a major tantrum about trying).  Other times I've pushed and ended up with a complete disaster b/c it was too much for him (I told him to join a small bike race with his cousin but it ended up being a horrible blow to his self-esteem when he didn't do well compared to the other kids).  Do I push him beyond the comfort level of his abilities--such as with reading, sensory/brain gym exercises, or his tendency of perfectionism--even if he gets really angry and fights me all the way?  Or should I let some of these things unfold in their own time?

 

I guess I sometimes am unsure about when and how far to go *with* his temperament vs. helping him learn coping or adaptive strategies.  When do I push and when do I coast? 

 

In other words, where's the owner's manual?  orngtongue.gif  Well, no one said parenting would be easy!

 

Thanks, Kelly

 

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#7 of 22 Old 10-10-2011, 06:25 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Originally Posted by Roar View Post

 

I don't think you need give up entirely on unschooling ideas. Being respectful and listening to your child are really at the core and that is absolutely something you can keep with you as explore more structure and limits.

 

Personally I don't think all "obsessions" are unhealthy. Certainly there are many people with ASD who have had successful careers that are within a field of obsession. I think particularly with a young kid I would differentiate between an obsessive interest and something like being a consumer of a game or movie. Some obsessions can be really helpful as a starting place for social interaction and expanding into new ideas and experiences. It seems clear though that this isn't what is happening with this video game. Instead he seems to be feeling bad as a result of it. Sometimes when kids are in that place it may be initially upsetting but ultimately a sweet relief to be freed of the burden of it. They may not be able to ask for it, but they still feel better once they can move on.

 


I asked ds today whether he felt the video games were healthy for him, and he said "no."  So it may be a relief, as you say, to release him from it.  We're going to give it a bit more time and make another attempt at putting limits on the games while adding in some structure to his day.  We'll see if he can handle it or if it just intensifies the obsession.  That will help us make our decision about whether he needs to stop playing.

 

Thanks again, Kelly

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#8 of 22 Old 10-11-2011, 07:28 AM
 
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This is where I doubt myself. I don't always feel like I know what would best serve him.  Do I push him to do things that are difficult, uncomfortable, or against his nature?  Or would that be, as you say, "a matter of what sounds good to the parent"?  

 

For example, his immediate reaction to everything I suggest is "No."  He doesn't like to try new things.  Sometimes I've pushed him to try something and it's turned out great (gymnastics classes, for example, which he loved after having a major tantrum about trying).  Other times I've pushed and ended up with a complete disaster b/c it was too much for him (I told him to join a small bike race with his cousin but it ended up being a horrible blow to his self-esteem when he didn't do well compared to the other kids).  Do I push him beyond the comfort level of his abilities--such as with reading, sensory/brain gym exercises, or his tendency of perfectionism--even if he gets really angry and fights me all the way?  Or should I let some of these things unfold in their own time?

 

I guess I sometimes am unsure about when and how far to go *with* his temperament vs. helping him learn coping or adaptive strategies.  When do I push and when do I coast? 

 

In other words, where's the owner's manual?  orngtongue.gif  Well, no one said parenting would be easy!


My son's primary diagnosis is ADHD (Aspergers is still a ? at this point). He needs a lot of structure, clear rules, and limits. School adds structure to his day and it pushes him to try things he wouldn't necessarily choose for himself (and it's not coming from me smile.gif), I have seen posts about parents putting formerly homeschooled children in school in these circumstances, but I can't necessarily say its the only way.

 

When ds first received his diagnosis we worked with a therapist on establishing a discipline method that worked best for him. We did have to cut out video games for awhile, but later allowed them with a strict 1hour time limit. Sometimes we'll have to put away something for awhile because ds can't either limit himself, accept our limits, or it is negatively affecting his...attitude. In the year since his diagnosis he has become more open to trying new things; ds wasn't keen on starting gymnastics either (he doesn't like being sweaty, achy, or exerting himself in general), but after the minimum tryout time (I have to give the gym a months' notice to cancel the class) ds decided he could sacrifice the hour a week and get a little bit sweaty orngtongue.gif.

 


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#9 of 22 Old 10-11-2011, 07:34 AM
 
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My son's primary diagnosis is ADHD (Aspergers is still a ? at this point). He needs a lot of structure, clear rules, and limits. School adds structure to his day and it pushes him to try things he wouldn't necessarily choose for himself (and it's not coming from me smile.gif), I have seen posts about parents putting formerly homeschooled children in school in these circumstances, but I can't necessarily say its the only way.


 

My DD, who's primary DX is asperger's, is far happier and more balanced in her alternative school than she ever was as a homeschooler. Unschooling was a disaster for her. Schooling with some structure was better, but her being in school is truly what is best for her.

 

One of the many wonderful things about it is that she has a whole team of adults working with her and caring about her and helping make those difficult decisions about when to push and when to let things ride. It's also far easier and more sane *for me* now that I'm not trying to do every thing alone.


but everything has pros and cons  shrug.gif

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#10 of 22 Old 10-11-2011, 02:29 PM
 
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Back to the original question:  Sometimes with obsessive interests, we look at what part of the interest had the appeal and use the knowledge to broaden interests.  For example, when my son was 7, he got obsessed with the game "Spore".  At first we though he liked simulation games, but that didn't seem to be it.  Then we realized from talking to him that it was the process of evolution that fascinated him.  From there, he branched off into science and understanding how breeding domestic animals and plants works.  By now, this has evolved into an interest in agricultural science, and through this he has ended up physically raising animals, studying and reading more, getting outside to observe, being involved in business ventures, going to 4-H, etc.  He's still obsessive, but the interest broadened when we realized the root of it.

 

I loved Roar's M&M analogy.  OTOH, sometimes special interests can be useful to bring along other interests when used in a healthy way.  As a teacher's aid, I consistently see the use of special interests as part of the program plan for ASD children.  It may become their career one day in some cases!  Temple Grandin's writing explores this at times, with her own work in humane farm management as an excellent example.


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  Temple Grandin's writing explores this at times, with her own work in humane farm management as an excellent example.


Yes, but having read Temple's advice to parents, I don't think she would be OK with a kid on the spectrum spending all day playing computer or video games. I suspect she would be in the "throw the thing about the window" camp, but she has pretty black and white thinking herself!

 


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#12 of 22 Old 10-11-2011, 04:29 PM
 
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I only had time to scan the replies but I have always had issues with like that... so from my perspective, what is sometimes easier is having a long break (several days/weeks/months) and then having an intense period where I can concentrate for hours on end on whatever my current obsession is. So I wonder if something like that would help your DS? Maybe one day a week he can play video games all day long (or whatever amount of time you feel is reasonable), but it gets put away for the rest of the week. Just an idea, no clue if it will work with your DS but it helps me. It's hard for me to be in the middle of something really engaging and then step away from it. But if I'm away from it for a long time and/or it's not an option, I have a much easier time with the time away from it, if that makes sense.

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#13 of 22 Old 10-11-2011, 06:10 PM
 
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Yes, but having read Temple's advice to parents, I don't think she would be OK with a kid on the spectrum spending all day playing computer or video games. I suspect she would be in the "throw the thing about the window" camp, but she has pretty black and white thinking herself!

 

Agreed.  I'm just wondering if there are any non-video game connections to the interest.  My son had an evolution connection to Spore, maybe something about the fantasy world of Star Wars could be a launch off into a broader interest, or Lego, or martial arts, etc.  I do think there's potential to broaden some interests, even video games.

 



 


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I only had time to scan the replies but I have always had issues with like that... so from my perspective, what is sometimes easier is having a long break (several days/weeks/months) and then having an intense period where I can concentrate for hours on end on whatever my current obsession is. So I wonder if something like that would help your DS? Maybe one day a week he can play video games all day long (or whatever amount of time you feel is reasonable), but it gets put away for the rest of the week. Just an idea, no clue if it will work with your DS but it helps me. It's hard for me to be in the middle of something really engaging and then step away from it. But if I'm away from it for a long time and/or it's not an option, I have a much easier time with the time away from it, if that makes sense.
 
 
Actually, we use this approach a lot with kids on the spectrum at work as a teacher's aid.  X amount of time is for dinosaurs, for example, but then it gets put in the box.  With an actual physical timer, and sometimes time with the obsession used as a reward.  This goes further than anything I've personally had to do with my own son, and it would be overboard for some of the kids I work with, too, but in some cases it helps.


 


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I have to say that I'm finding this discussion really fascinating. I want to address a part of your post in particular, Ex Libris ...

Quote:
I really don't know what to do--take it away all together, set some strict limits, or just let him work it out.  On the one hand, he needs to learn how to moderate his behavior and find the "gray area" in situations, and by taking away the games I don't give him a chance to do that.  But in the past when I've tried to limit other obsessions, he just pushes *constantly* to get more--if anything, it creates a bigger obsession.  Which is exactly what many unschoolers would say-- he needs to be in control his own choices, and if I set limits it'll make his desire for it even greater.

At first, I thought ... well, maybe he doesn't have the capacity for self-regulation. It's looking like he doesn't, given your example. But then Roar posted that maybe his choice to play as much as he wants or sell the game if he can't do that is a sign of maturity. It got me thinking. I look at my partner who we've concluded has Asperger's. He can get very obsessive about some things. In adults we tend to phrase that as having good problem-solving skills or being able to be a self-motivated worker or being able to really stick it out when the going gets tough. He's done amazing things by simple obsession over the years. Accomplished feats in the field of fine arts, in computing, etc. So, maybe you're right. Maybe you do need to give him the space to work it out. Let him know you're there as a sounding board and resource and that when he's frustrated it can help to take a step back and rethink it - even if "it" is a level in a game. Video games teach amazing problem-solving skills. There can be a positive side to this if you unschool yourself to see the possibility that maybe he actually *can* work his way through it. As he gets older he will get better at pacing himself and dealing with his frustration. He is only a kid right now. Expecting that kind of control is a lot to ask a NT kid - often NT kids can't handle it either and get obsessed with new games or toys.


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When I suggest that ds take a break or get some distance from the game, he says we should just sell it--if he can't play as much as he wants, then he doesn't want to play at all.  

 

 

I would get rid of it or my kid would accept hard limits on screen time.

 

Per the APA guidelines, we set limits of no more than 2 hours per day on screen time for both of our kids. Now, for my ASD kid, some of that time is filled with reading strategy manuals and FAQs and walk-throughs for the game that he is currently obsessed with, but I'm okay with that. He also writes additional levels and stories for the game that he is currently obsessed with.

 

My ASD kid needs help setting limits and structuring his day. We've found ways to do that. To my great disappointment, that has included moving away from allowing him some choices in his day (we left a Montessori grade school) and putting him in a more structured, scheduled environment. He's really great about the rules once they are laid out clearly for him, and he's much happier when he has rules to follow. In an unstructured environment, he spends a lot of time being confused about what is expected of him, because he's more obsessive and focused than most people and he doesn't pick up on social cues as to what he is supposed to be doing. A structured environment with explicit rules helps him with that.

 

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I would get rid of it or my kid would accept hard limits on screen time.

 

Per the APA guidelines, we set limits of no more than 2 hours per day on screen time for both of our kids. Now, for my ASD kid, some of that time is filled with reading strategy manuals and FAQs and walk-throughs for the game that he is currently obsessed with, but I'm okay with that. He also writes additional levels and stories for the game that he is currently obsessed with.

 

My ASD kid needs help setting limits and structuring his day. We've found ways to do that. To my great disappointment, that has included moving away from allowing him some choices in his day (we left a Montessori grade school) and putting him in a more structured, scheduled environment. He's really great about the rules once they are laid out clearly for him, and he's much happier when he has rules to follow. In an unstructured environment, he spends a lot of time being confused about what is expected of him, because he's more obsessive and focused than most people and he doesn't pick up on social cues as to what he is supposed to be doing. A structured environment with explicit rules helps him with that.

 

 

 



 

 

We found this with DS, too.  He consistently prefers strict teachers (and will say so) because he knows what is expected.  Most blow-outs we experience occur when a rule wasn't stated clearly or was bended.  We  also limit screen time (although we've never even remotely approached 2 hours daily, that's like the maximum on weekends, and many week days there's none because there just isn't time with homework, extra curricular activities, chore, etc) with an actual time on weekends and in terms of "Get all these necessaries done first, including one hour outdoors" on week days.  We haven't had problems, despite obsessiveness, as long as we are consistent and everyone follows the same rules.  We chose not to entirely eliminate because it was a good reward for facing anxieties during therapy (the structure of the group therapy involved rewards the child chose), because we used information from the screen to ascertain if he had a related off-screen interest (which he did) and because it's a family activity with DH often playing with him.  While I advocate following special interests, I certainly do think children have to be protected from going overboard when it can affect their health.  There's a difference between structured guidance or mentoring a child using a special interest than allowing complete free rein without limits or structure.  ASD kids have a hard time understanding unspoken rules and structuring themselves, so they need help.

 

 

 

 


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#18 of 22 Old 10-12-2011, 03:28 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks to all of you who have replied. It's so helpful to have many insightful suggestions and perspectives. My dh and I plan to sit down this weekend and talk about how to proceed, and all of your wise words will factor into our decision. I know we'll put some limits on the games (probably the 2 hours some of you spoke of) to start with to see if ds can handle it, b/c we really think it could be good for him to keep playing.  But we may have to get rid of it altogether if he can't find some balance with other things.  

 

I think, as some of you mentioned, that consistency and a predictable schedule will be key with ds; otherwise he will push at the boundaries and drive us crazy.  That's the part that *dh and I* have to work on b/c we can tend to be willy nilly if we don't keep our focus on what's best for ds.

 

Kindly,

 

Kelly

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I think, as some of you mentioned, that consistency and a predictable schedule will be key with ds; otherwise he will push at the boundaries and drive us crazy.  That's the part that *dh and I* have to work on b/c we can tend to be willy nilly if we don't keep our focus on what's best for ds.

Yes. This was very hard for DH and me as well. Neither of us is good with structure. But our DD really benefits hugely from having that routine in her daily life. Once we (mainly me) buckled down and started using a schedule (she uses DaySee visual schedule as she's not quite reading yet) with her at home, her behavior improved. She likes having the power of being able to see what's coming next. She struggled a bit with transitions but repetition there combined with providing warnings as we lead up to the transition works well. Also, a LOT of positive reinforcement as we moved over to the schedule and the more consistent way of approaching our days. There are times when she doesn't *want* to do a certain thing at a certain time, but by having it scheduled, oddly enough, it makes it sort of an inevitable activity for her now.


Weary SuperMama superhero.gifto my  amazing neurodiverse 6 y.o. DD hearts.gif and to my on-the-go neurotypical 3 y.o. DS wild.gif

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#20 of 22 Old 10-18-2011, 09:08 AM
 
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Routine and structure ultimately turned my DS into a really well behaved, helpful kid, BTW.

 

At age 8, he started getting himself out of bed, showering, brushing his teeth, getting dressed and eating breakfast without being prompted. If I'm not up, he just takes care of it. (He eats a yogurt and piece of fruit if I'm not up to make something hot.)  He has free time to play video games before school when all those tasks are done. He does all of his homework when he comes home from school without being asked because that's what the schedule says to do. Again, he has free time to play video games when the homework is done.

 

He also started getting up on Sunday morning and cleaning his room without being asked. He does that before his shower, because the schedule says "Sunday morning - clean house" and his room is his job. He then showers, brushes his teeth and gets dressed. He strips his bed and brings the bedding down to the laundry. Then he has breakfast and then free time for video games.

 

Once we made out expectations clear and had a regular schedule, he had no problem following the schedule.

 

I don't always enjoy being boxed in by a schedule, but lots of other parents have to do the same with all of their NT kids' activities, so I just grin and bear it, and trade free periods with DH.

 

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#21 of 22 Old 10-18-2011, 12:06 PM
 
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Another thing that worked for us was using a multi-stage timer that has different colored lights. When it goes from green to yellow, she knows time is starting to get short. It's helped her move herself along and get a sense of time. She struggles mightly witih understanding that time is a constantly moving thing and always running out. It causes her anxiety so we have to be careful how we approach it.


Weary SuperMama superhero.gifto my  amazing neurodiverse 6 y.o. DD hearts.gif and to my on-the-go neurotypical 3 y.o. DS wild.gif

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#22 of 22 Old 10-18-2011, 06:13 PM - Thread Starter
 
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You are all giving me some great ideas.  I really do need to get a routine in place, but I'm not sure how to go about it.  

 

Beachcomber, you mentioned using a "DaySee visual schedule."  Can I ask what that is?  I tried looking it up but couldn't find anything.  I'll try to find one of those timers, too.  I think that'll be great for ds.

 

RiverTam, wow, it sounds like you've really worked hard and it has really helped!  You said that you "made our expectations clear and had a regular schedule."  How did you convey your expectations and set the schedule with your son, if you don't mind my asking.

 

I would appreciate any advice or suggestions about how to put together a schedule for ds.  He doesn't read yet, so it would have to be something visual.  I know there are tons of ideas out there, but it's always nice to hear firsthand what's worked well for others.

 

Many thanks, Kelly

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