From the beginning of his life Isaac seemed different than most limp cuddly infants. As soon as his mother Corinne (not her real name) held him he stiffened and almost stood in her arms. He wanted to nurse but couldn’t do it well. Though he was fussy when Corinne held him and didn’t seem to wholly enjoy the experience he seemed downright panicky when Corinne put him down. She would finally get him to sleep but then he would only sleep an hour and woke up screaming and sort of stiff.
Then at 4 months old he started waking from sleep in grand maul seizures and seemed even more needy and tired. Desperate to find some way of helping him sleep, Corinne got in the habit of wearing Isaac in a sling. At first he was highly resistant but she had read about the positive affects of sling wearing in helping uptight babies and hoped it would help him sleep. After two weeks of resisting it he finally adjusted and it helped calm him. Though he outgrew the seizures, throughout the remainder of his toddler hood, Isaac continued to be a somewhat removed child…often not responding when spoken to and unaware of things around him. He would pull away when hugged, though he sat comfortably in his sling. The only time he would be affectionate was when he was sleepy or not feeling well and so Corinne pursued these times to nurture that affectionate response.
Gradually as time went by, and when it became known that Isaac was mildly autistic, Corinne decided to double her efforts in reaching out to him and gradually he began to respond in kind.
Corinne was one of many parents who struggle to love an unresponsive child. While the very definition of autism includes a social handicap and unresponsiveness, it is, like any other handicap, an obstacle that can be overcome. Here are some symptoms and tips for helping a child who is difficult to love such as an autistic child compiled from *experts and life experiences of mothers like Corinne.
Symptoms typical of an autistic or unresponsive child.
1. Avoids eye contact.
2. Runs away from people.
3. Screams or tantrums without warning.
4. Is stiff and unresponsive when touched.
5. Doesn’t respond when talked to.
6. Only approaches you when there is something they want to talk about and often is difficult to understand.
Ways to help overcome these tendencies.
1. Find out what interests the child and get on their level.
2. Engage them by encouraging them to look at your eyes when you speak to them.
3. Speak calmly and have a count to ten exercise when child acts out emotionally.
4. Give hugs in a routine way (i.e before bed, and upon rising) so that the child knows what to expect.
5. With infants, keep trying to initiate affection such as sling wearing, responsive touch, playful touch, all kinds of touch. Don’t give up!
6. Use short sentences and frequent interactions as opposed to long lectures for long periods of time.
7. Make a routine of talking about their day, what they dreamed about, what they are playing with etc.
8. Read books and social stories about children who interact well with other people to the child.
9. Do role- plays with puppets and characters with young children acting out positive behavior and responding appropriately.
Perhaps in Corinne’s case it was helpful that she did not know her child was autistic till later on in childhood. She knew her child needed help loving her and she was determined to help him down that path. Instead of giving in to the despair that she first felt when she heard that he was autistic she continued to tackle the unresponsive unyielding tendencies in her son Isaac so that as an eleven-year old boy, he now initiates affection, says I love you, and exhibits compassion for ailing younger children. While he still is not extremely affectionate, he has come a long way from the distant child he once was.
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