My autistic child always wants to be first! What to do?
Welcome back to Best Case Parenting and welcome to another article for those of you with autistic children. It can feel like you are alone sometimes, but the truth is there is a massive community of other parents in the same boat as you. We want to try and lighten the parenting load by offering advice, but feel free to share your own problems and advice below for others.
When dealing with autistic children that always want to be first, we need to find a wide variety of ways to train their way of thinking to act different at these times. If you repeat this over time, you should notice an improvement. That is what we will help you with here.
I am sure a lot of parents have seen this situation. Their child is rushing to be the first person out the door, or the first to put on their shoes. It's all about being first!
A lot of young children can be competitive in nature, but this can be even more intense when you have a child with autism. Often, an autistic child doesn't always act in the way you or I would react. They see the world in a slightly different light and don't always catch on to what is considered appropriate in these situations. This can mean that this over competitiveness can last for longer with an autistic child if you don't take steps to intervene and help.
In this article, we want to give simple and actionable tips that you can use over a period of time to "train" your autistic child to better deal with these situations.
I would like to say that I am not a professional in this field, I just have a lot of experience dealing with a wide variety of children. If you find that these tips are not helping, your next step should be to seek out a suitable professional to support your child. Dealing with autistic children can be tough, and you will need all the support you can get.
So without further a do, here are those tips:
Play lots of games!
This may sound odd at first, but hopefully you will totally understand this after I explain it a bit better. You basically want to train your child to have a deeper understanding that we need to take it in turns, and the process this should follow.
You can play a wide variety of games. Board games are a good example, as you can find a wide variety of board games for pretty much all ages. It would help if you could find a board game that is related to something that interests your child. So, if they love Peppa Pig (for example), see if you can find some kind of Peppa Pig board game or in fact any game where your child needs to take it in turns.
At first, you should do a running commentary on whose turn it is in the game. When your child is used to this routine, ask them to vocalise this themselves. Repeat these games on a regular basis, and you should find that they start getting the idea of taking turns. You can then explain to them that we need to take turns in everything that we do, not only games.
Use the power of story telling!
Most children love books, especially if they are being read to them on a daily basis. You can use these books as a tool to remind your child that they don't always have to be first and that we have to take it in turns. Make sure to read these books on a regular basis, in order to maximise their impact. The book below "Me First" is one example. Click the image to take a look at it over on Amazon.
If you want to take this even further, there is a great book of short stories that would help your child grasp a wide range of social skills here:
Once your child is familiar with these stories, you should have them handy to take out at short notice. For a lot of autistic children, the simple nature of these stories makes them a perfect way to remind about appropriate behaviour in different situations. The visual nature of them is also great for a lot of autistic children. Traditional story books are better for bedtime reading and these simpler social stories are great for quick reinforcement throughout the day.
You should also look into making a social story specifically based around your child's situation, to really help it hit home how they should act in this situation. To get guidance on this, I would recommend you go take a look at this article over at The National Autistic Society. This in depth article should give you all the guidance you need about exactly how these social stories can be effective for your child in any specific situations where you see they are too competitive.
Re-enforce the message with role play
Another great way to help train your child's thinking in hyper competitive situations is to play out the same situations using role play. Use puppets, dolls or what you have available to act out the situation they are struggling with and talk about what they should do. I would test this method with your child first, as the slightly abstract nature might be hard to comprehend with some autistic children.
For example, if your child is pushing a sibling out of the way to be first lining up to go in the garden, you should act out this exact same situation. You could get some dolls to represent the children and adults involved and literally act out what just happened and what should happen. This is a great way to remind your child what they should do the next time they encounter this situation again. Think of it as a more fun way to highlight what good behaviour is!
Be a good role model
It will help a lot if you can, as the adult, model appropriate behaviour at the times your child is struggling with. So, if they find it hard to line up without pushing to be first, you can demonstrate an appropriate way of doing this very same action. Whilst doing this, you can say a phrase such as "It's not a race, we are just walking to the door", this will likely be a phrase your child will have in their heads when this situation arises again.
Highlight positive behaviour
Whenever your child does behave appropriately, be sure to give them the necessary praise. This will encourage them to repeat this same behaviour again next time. I would start with verbal praise, then if your child goes for a whole week behaving well in these situations, you could think of a physical reward. It could simply be doing an activity they really enjoy. For example, I have seen a child in my professional life who loves going trampolining. This could be the reward for him at the end of a good week.
Help is available!
Now that we are at the end of our tips about helping an autistic child that is over competitive, I want to finish by encouraging you to always take the opportunity to seek help from the numerous support networks there are. Wherever you live, there is bound to be an autistic community or society you can seek advice from.
On this very website, I reviewed an excellent magazine called Autism Parenting Magazine. To me, this is an excellent resource for anyone interested in finding out more about autism. You can read my full review HERE.
If you have your own experiences and advice with autistic children, we would love to hear all about this in the comments section below.