I am not a patient person. And I am very stubborn.
That is not a great combination when you are trying to teach a child with autism how to tie their shoes.
Tying shoes a particular challenge for kids with autism
Shoelaces. Is there a worse form of torture for parents?
I know that teaching any child how to tie their shoes can be a challenge, but it is particularly hard when you have a child with autism.
Many autistic children have difficulty with fine motor skills. Many also have trouble following multi-step directions. My son has come a long way in both regards – for instance, Kai is now able to work with small Lego pieces and enjoys building somewhat complicated sets that take 40 steps or more.
But when it comes to tying his shoelaces, Kai is all thumbs.
We had a feeling that this would be the case and kicked the can down the road for as long as we could. Kai has been wearing slip-on sandals for a long time, and shoes with Velcro straps when sandals won’t do.
As he has gotten bigger, the availability of shoes with the Velcro straps has dwindled. Almost all shoes for his size now come with shoelaces. And as gym shoes are required for PE at school, we are forced to deal with what we put off until now.
It would be easy enough to tie his shoes for him, but I want Kai to be as self-reliant as possible. So I am determined that he learn to tie them himself.
The first few times I worked on this with Kai, he got frustrated when he couldn’t figure out how to get the lace around to make the second loop. I got frustrated when he wouldn’t watch to see how I did it.
“Kai, watch how I do it. Kai, you have to look to see how I do it. KAI, LOOK AT ME!!!”
After a few episodes like that, I decided to try something different. I started out by having him do some deep breathing exercises. The reason, I explained, was so that he would stay calm; you can’t learn anything when you are flustered. But really, the exercise was as much to help me to stay calm; you can’t teach anything when you are frustrated.
Alas, the relaxation technique did not work on Kai. Or me.
When we got to the step where you make the second loop, he again had trouble and then took off his shoe and threw it down in frustration. I encouraged him to try again. But he kept saying that he couldn’t do it. When he didn’t even try, I really lost my patience.
I threatened to take away all of his new birthday presents. That only increased his agitation and caused him to become totally unfocused on the task at hand. So of course he wasn’t able to tie his laces, or even give a decent effort.
And my frustrations boiled over.
No birthday presents, I told him. Then I went to where his recently-opened presents were still stacked, and carried them all away.
Almost instantly, I felt worse than dirt.
It was one of those I Am An Awful Parent moments.
I previously expressed my displeasure when people assume that a child with autism is misbehaving, and when they don’t understand the often-invisible disability that is autism.
But, I am guilty of this myself.
I surely know that my son has attention deficits, and that causes him to not listen to me as well as I wish he would. Yet, too often I expect him respond to me the way a typical kid would. It is no wonder when my tactics don’t work.
Raising my voice doesn’t help. Threatening to take away birthday presents doesn’t work either.
Patience is the utmost importance. Staying calm helps, too.
And being positive and encouraging wouldn’t hurt.
Those are all things I am not really good at. But I need to be. Like I said, I am stubborn. So, I will not give up. Hopefully I will learn to be more patient.
Because my son needs me to be much better than an Awful Parent.