Beginning the day with a call from the school nurse isn’t on any parent’s to do list. However, the call I received this morning rapidly changed from an inconvenience to an opportunity to connect with my son.
She informed me that Aidan claimed he’d chosen not to take his ADHD meds this morning in order to challenge himself to see if he could function without them. Now he was reporting having a difficult time focusing. The nurse requested that I bring some medication to school to help Aidan get back on track. This seemed suspicious because just last week he’d gone a day without it due to a shortage at the pharmacy and the results were miserable.
I quickly bundled up to venture out into the winter weather and placed my glasses upon my unshaven face while simultaneously fretting about the game I felt I was a pawn in. But, as it is one of my core beliefs that I am not a victim I sought to find a way to turn an inconvenience into something more. While I initially intended to lecture Aidan on his choice to forgo his medicine and the inconvenience it caused everyone else, I instead decided that I would first sit quietly and listen to his story.
Instead of lecturing him on the decision he had made I wanted to give him an opportunity to explain how he arrived at that decision, so that the lesson could be about better problem solving instead of a scolding about problem causing.
As we sat in the nurse’s office I asked him to explain to me what was happening for him today. He gave me a disjointed explanation about him wanting to try a day without his medicine to help him get past his fear. When I asked him to explain further he began talking about being too tired to go to school and having a rough morning.
When I saw how calm and focused he was in talking to me I suspected that the story about skipping his medicine was a ruse. So I gently informed him that if he were to accidentally overdose on his medication the side effects could be horrible, so with that I asked him directly to be honest with me as to whether he took his medicine. Then he responded, “Okay I took it.” He went on to explain that he was simply very tired and didn’t get the kind of break he needed this morning in school in order to organize himself. So he was simply looking for a way to get a longer break.
I explained to him how much easier it was for me to understand what he needed when he told me he needed a longer break instead of being dishonest. If I had simply believed him without question and given him more medicine that could have made things far worse. I asked him what he would do next time he needed a longer break. He said he would ask to talk to me. I told him that he needs to be able to talk to his teacher as well. He replied, “But you’re better at talking.”
Being able to talk to any child especially a child on the autism spectrum is more art than science, and begins by listening to the child share his experience about what is and isn’t working in that moment. Far too often adults begin with a lecture designed to steer a child in the direction of how the adult has decided that moment needs to go. In doing so anything that makes it difficult for the child to satisfy your request is often overlooked. Far too often the option your child is left with is the option to create a lie big enough to get your attention and get the result they need.
All Aidan was looking for was more time, and he was able to get it. Unfortunately, it was at the expense of trust. Aidan unfortunately has a long history of lying. However, I’m discovering that if I’m patient enough to give him the time to get his thoughts together he is often able to find his way to the truth. If he feels rushed it’s hard for him to both collect his thoughts and to speak them so he is more inclined to give any answer that will get him off the hook.
My initial reaction to this phone call was to educate my child, until I realized it was far more important to make sure that my interaction with him also built our relationship. When we were done talking he had a plan for how to have a great day, how to tell his teacher what he needed when he needed it, as well as the reassurance that I would be talking to his teacher as well.
Too often it is the strategy of many adults to respond to their children in moments like this with a good talking to. What I’ve learned is that more often than not a child just needs a good listening to.
Thanks for being you.
About Brian R. King
Brian R. King LCSW (ADHD & ASD Life Coach) is a #1 Best Selling Author, 25-year cancer survivor, adult with Dyslexia, ADHD, and Asperger’s. He’s also the father of three sons on the autism spectrum. He is known worldwide for his books and highly engaging presentations that teach the power of connection and collaboration. His strategies empower others to overcome their differences so they can build powerful and lasting partnerships. His motto is: We’re all in this together.