By Brian Kaminski, MA, BCBA
Sometimes breakthroughs come where we least expect them — at times during our weakest moments.
A recent perspective shift for me came moments after a “parental tipping point” — those moments only other fellow parents can fully understand — exhausted, defeated and ashamed after losing my cool amid a house full of toddlers (four to be exact). I don’t know whose tantrum was more impressive this day — theirs or mine. Sadly, I must admit, I believe it was the latter. As I chastised myself, I couldn’t help but think, “These moments never happen to me within my clinical practice. Why should it be any different with my own children?” I think it’s a shared human experience that we are usually at our most flawed around the ones we love most deeply.
As I was reflecting on my behavior this day, I paused to identify the common thread of what led me to “snap” in this particular moment, in hopes of not making the same mistake again. The more I reflected on my behavior, I identified that these moments shared either one of two traits. They occurred when either:
A) I was viscerally at sensory overload. I’m talking “four simultaneous crying and clamoring children, TV blasting full ‘Mickey Mouse Clubhouse,’ Alexa pumping ‘Frosty the Snowman’ on repeat (it’s April), all while the kitchen timer is going off and I’m pretty sure something is smoking” kind of sensory overload. The type of overload which causes your brain to cry out, “Make. It. Stop!” Hence the tipping point.
B) I was talking repeatedly to a child (or children) with priorities entirely at odds with my own. You can call it developmentally appropriate boundary testing, “selective hearing” or perhaps sheer toddler-ism. By all accounts, however, you can call it utterly and completely trying, stretching and downright humbling.
Most days and most moments I have the patience for it — all of it. Some moments, however, I must honestly say that I don’t. And those are the moments which sting the most and stay with me the longest.
But these two facts alone were not my breakthrough. It was the realization that my own personal “challenging behaviors” were caused by: a) sensory sensitivities and b) communication barriers. Does this sound familiar to anyone?
Practicing empathy and understanding when faced with challenges
Difficulties with sensory stimulation and barriers communicating are classically defined criteria of Autism Spectrum Disorder. As the term spectrum signifies, these sensitivities and challenges exist along a continuum of differing magnitudes and characteristics. Yet, the autistic lived experience exists along a continuum we all exist upon — the varying ways we perceive and experience the world around us in a term now known as “neurodiversity.” These differences, however great, are still firmly rooted in a shared sameness:
How can you not be moved with empathy and understanding instead of judgment when faced with these challenges?
Look for part two of this column next week about how these challenges and others can be transformed.
Brian Kaminski, MA, BCBA, is vice president of clinical services at Lumen Pediatric Therapy. For more information, visit lumenkids.com.