Tricia is known at Seattle Children’s Autism Center as “the saintly mom of triplets”, two with ASD, ID, and significant behavioral challenges. While we’ve observed her demonstrate all our previous parent coping tools, we asked her to share with us the one we know her to be an expert in: patience!
Q: How do you define/describe this parenting tool? In your own words, what does it mean?
A: It means that you need to stop and think before you reactively say something or do something and remember that they’re not doing (insert challenging behavior here) willfully. It’s part of their disability. You won’t be able to be patient all the time because you aren’t perfect. No one is. But you can try each time and the more you try, the more it becomes your norm.
Q: How did you discover this tool for parenting kids with ASD? Did someone teach it to you? Did you see other parents modeling it for you?
A: I think it is partly genetics and partly the way I was raised. From the time I was twelve, we had elder relatives living with us who had medical issues. This had a big impact on me in that I saw my mom care for them with such patience. She taught me that this is what you do. Family members take care of each other and that requires a lot of patience. Having triplets by definition meant I had to be patient!
Q: How has this tool lessened your stress or made life a bit easier for you?
A: Being patient definitely lessens your stress. Getting worked up into a heightened state affects your mental and physical health. It also affects the vibes in your house and how your kids with autism and others relate to you. They feel your stress. If your kids are stressed, someone needs to stay calm. Patience helps you keep your cool and think much clearer.
Q: Did you find that the more you used this tool, the better you got at it?
A: Yes. In those early days, when things were new and I just wanted answers to help my kids be more capable, it was hard to be patient. You just want to help them as much as possible. As you go through the years though, you realize that nothing happens quickly – from getting return phone calls to accessing services. I learned that being calm and respectful worked better. If you’re impatient and rude, people may not want to work with you.
Q: What else would you like us to know about this parenting tool?
A: You can’t expect to be patient all the time. There were plenty of times I was not proud of myself for things I said or did. There were times when I felt I couldn’t take it any more when all three were upset. We’re only human.
It’s challenging to have patience with people in public who are rude. I often try to educate them and thank people who do try to understand. We recently went on vacation where the hotel room had the beds on right side of the room and one of my kids insists beds be on the other side. The staff was very patient and accommodating in getting us another room. I always show my appreciation and gratitude. When we go to the car-wash, a favorite activity, some people are patient and understanding and others are not. I explain that my son is not being rude – he has autism. I hope that doing this makes it better for other families who might be in the same situation. I have come to accept that they are where they are and we might get some progress but being impatient isn’t going to help them progress or make life easier. Being impatient will only make it harder for all.
I also think that for siblings without ASD, it is a valuable lesson for them on how to deal with people throughout their life. My son without ASD used to freak out when his siblings would tantrum but he’s gotten much better. This is something that will serve him in life.
For parents new to diagnosis, remember it’s a journey. Patience will come with time as you get to know how ASD affects your child and what battles you want to fight and what’s best for your mental health to let go of. Believe that they (to whatever extent) will make progress and you can’t rush it or force it. We can do lots of things and not see quick or noticeable progress. Don’t give up. Move on. You will learn to know when it’s good enough. You can’t force it and can’t fight it. You have to be realistic. If you’re unsure, ask for help from your child’s providers.
We’d like to thank Tricia for sharing this parent coping tool with us. Tricia is also featured in the September 2016 issue of Reader’s Digest.