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Holding my son with autism accountable

(Lauren Swick Jordan)
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When TJ was in fourth grade, he was in a school performance of Peter Pan. TJ and three other boys were the tail of the crocodile, each standing thisclose to the boy in front of him.

And TJ licked K’s head. While under the tail of the crocodile.

Another friend, who knows TJ very well, scolded him. “It’s okay, he has autism,” K said. But TJ’s friend said “No. He’s in fourth grade, he knows better than to lick someone’s head.”

I was so proud of this friend and couldn’t have said it better myself.

Now TJ is 14. He’s in high school. He’s almost 6 feet tall. He’s not licking anyone’s head anymore — his inappropriateness has grown into teenage inappropriateness.

Tonight, he was angry with me that his iPad time was done for the day. I knew his anger was building, and suddenly he screamed at me, “F off mom!”

For the record, yes, he said the f word.

This is totally unacceptable, autism or no autism, so TJ was immediately sent to his room and told his screen time for the next day was lost. I told him he was not allowed downstairs until he calmed down. It took a while, with a lot more colorful language yelled through his bedroom door, but he finally calmed down.

A childhood friend, and fellow autism mom, sent me a message after I tried to make light of the incident in a note I posted on Facebook.

Her son “acts on impulses and is always remorseful, but someday that may be too late. Our goal is to control those impulses before they become habits and eventually his character and way of handling anxiety,” she wrote. “It’s a race against the clock as his brain is maturing…..I just want to make sure parents and people who r not raising ASD children understand the importance and the fine line these children/teenagers walk. (These) kiddos need to be accountable for their actions…”

Yes. Yes yes yes. I can’t tell you how many times I have been told by school employees how hard it is to discipline TJ because he’s cute. Well, he’s learned that he can get away with some behaviors, and use his autism as an excuse.

What I want people to know, and to remember, is that autism or not, all kids need to be held accountable for their behaviors. These behaviors can sometimes be explained by a child’s diagnosis, but if these kids learn that their diagnosis will get them out of trouble, think of the trouble they may willingly cause. They need clear expectations set. Cute or not.

My friend is right – time is ticking. Now is the time to give him every tool he needs to be calm, happy and productive as he grows into an adult. We may have to work a little harder because of his autism, but our TJ is so, so worth it.

Lauren Swick Jordan blogs at I Don’t Have a Job.

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Survival tips for an autism parent

My son with autism started high school this week

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