When he was young, our autistic son, Scott, had a significant behavioral problem: he was obsessed with only using one door of our house. Our home had two front doors, and he adamantly refused to use any other door but the one he preferred. I am sure many of you parents what I am talking about. The “things” can extend to foods, only wearing a certain kind of clothing, watching only one DVD, hearing one song …… the list goes on and on, until you crave a retreat to a hotel, ALONE, to retreat. You get the picture.
One day I decided I had had enough. Not only was this driving me nuts; it was a dangerous situation for our then 3-year-old son. If there was a fire in the house, and he refused to leave from any entrance other than the one he preferred, he would perish. Change was necessary!
I knew from long experience with his screaming tantrums to steal myself for a confrontation, so I prepared for the battle. I set aside three 2-hour block afternoons, bought a pair of earplugs, and went to talk to the neighbors.
They were informed that a battle was about to ensue, and the enemy was not going to go down without a fight. Everyone within a 2-house radius was told that they should not be worried. Although his lung power was great and his willpower even greater, he had found a stubborn equal in his mother. He was going to look for a fight, and who was I to disappoint him ??
The next day the battle began. He went for his favorite door, and I gently picked him up and moved him to the hated alternative. The first reaction was panic. If I had not known any better, I would have assumed that he thought I was throwing him into the deep end of a pool when he did not know how to swim. The panic almost instantly changed to dismay …. How COULD you, Mom? I thought you loved me! When that did not change my mind, he escalated it to the next level. Surely that would work! Now the screaming began. The confrontation had begun in earnest.
I reached for my earplugs and curiously watched to see what he would do next. I did not have long to wait. He ran for the other door, and I followed him. Thankfully, I was prepared with some good running shoes, anticipating that I was going to get some exercise. Back and forth we went, from one door to the other. Each time he tried to go out, I picked him up and took him to the other door. All the while, I responded to his screaming with soft tones, telling him that he needed to try the other door. This first battle tactic lasted for 45 minutes.
Finally, he decided that was not going to work, so Surely throwing himself on the floor while simultaneously trying to burst my eardrums would be effective. He tried that, while occasionally halting the screaming to see if I would notice that he was in extreme distress. Then he became very creative. He roled himself all the way to the top of the basement stairs, right next to the despised door, and stopped just short of rolling down. Then he looked at me to make sure I knew he could seriously injure himself if I did not do something! I calmly picked him up without saying a word and put him down again.
After 2 1/2 hours, with sweat pouring down his face and exhaustion in his scream, he finally let me take him out the front door. I had won! He let me hold him, and we both collapsed on the couch.
Note: This battle occurred for three more days. The next day lasted one hour, the second 45 minutes, third fifteen, and finally, on the last day, he went right out the formerly hated door. I had won for good! His prize? A nice walk to the park, out the new door, of course!
The moral to this story: If you stand your ground, you can help change the behavior of a child with autism.