difficulty getting son to school on time

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HiccupHaddock
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22 Apr 2022, 3:36 am

Dear all,
Lately we've been having a lot of trouble getting our son, who is 7 and on the autism spectrum, to school on time.
It's quite stressful as the school want him to be there on time, and give us some leeway but today we were about half an hour late, and all got quite stressed getting out the door.
He doesn't seem to really see any urgency in getting there on time, and we've tried to offer inducements like new books (he loves reading) but that doesn't make a lot of difference.
Any advice?



HiccupHaddock
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22 Apr 2022, 3:54 am

By the way, the psychologist told us that our son is sometimes 'demand avoidant'.
He doesn't always respond if we ask him to do things.
When we're trying to get him to go to school, he sometimes runs around laughing, and won't let us put his school clothes on etc.. But if we get too serious sounding about being late, he gets upset and runs to his bedroom and gets stressed out.
It's really hard to know how to motivate him to be on time, we've tried promising treats but it doesn't have much effect.
I feel he just can't cope with a strict timetable and stress of being at school by a certain time. But society seems to be obsessed with a clock.
My husband and I also need to start work by a certain time, which adds to our overall stress over this.



Ettina
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22 Apr 2022, 4:05 am

I don't have any good advice, but this was basically me at that age. Part of the problem was that I hated school, but demand avoidance was also a factor.



timf
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22 Apr 2022, 7:14 am

For most of human history people of all ages have been motivated by both a carrot and a stick. in modern times many have postulated that a "stick" is not necessary. I think you are discovering that this thesis is not completely supportable.

External discipline has the objective of helping a child develop self-discipline. If the child has trouble getting ready on time, the parent can provide a consequence such that the child is motivated to exercise the self-discipline to do so.



Pteranomom
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22 Apr 2022, 1:17 pm

Oh momma, I've been there! (Context: I have 4 kids and am perennially late to things.)

Remember: first, even NT kids are often late to school, and second, at this age, you're still building habits. A 7 year old--especially an autspec one--simply isn't ready to do all of the different parts of "getting dressed" by themselves. (Heck, my high-functioning kiddo could barely figure out how to turn clothes right-side out at that age.)

What you want to do is set up a routine/system that teaches your kid what to do and how to do it. You may have to break stuff down into smaller steps than you might think necessary/do things that you feel he ought to be doing, like helping with shoelaces. As the routine gets established, you can step back more and leave more of it to him.

Start by looking at your bedtime routine. Hopefully you've got this down pat and can skip this paragraph, but I didn't until my eldest was about 9. With my little ones, I have appreciated the bedtime routine so much! It makes everything better. A typical bedtime routine is something like dinner, bath, brush teeth, PJs on, use potty, into bed, story, and lights out by 9:30. The exact details vary by family but you can time how long these activities take and then work backwards from lights out to see when each thing should happen, like Dinner at 7, bath at 7:45, out of bath at 8:15, dry off and brush teeth by 8:30, PJs and potty by 8:45, then settle in bed and read until lights out.

You'll also want to use the evening routine to get a jump start on the morning routine: pick a time to get all of the backpacks/bookbags together and set out tomorrow's clothes so they're ready to go in the morning. (If you pack a lunch, you might want to make it the night before and put it in the fridge, too.) So maybe you get the bookbag together before dinner, since you won't be doing any homework together after dinner, (I don't know if your son has homework, but mine had very mild homework like "count to 100" at that age,) but the ideal time to get the bookbag ready is as soon as he's done with it in the afternoon--either immediately after walking in the door from school or after finishing his homework. That way it's done and you don't have to think about it anymore. If he can't deal with his own bookbag, then at this age, you do it for him. You can say, "Now it's time to put our backpack in its spot by the door so it's ready to go in the morning!" and put it there, modeling the behavior so he will learn it.

PJ time is a good time to set out tomorrow's clothes--shirt, pants, socks, underwear. (Make sure it's all rightside out.) Some kids can pick out their clothes and some can't. If it's important to him that he wears a certain shirt, let him. If he wants to make a choice but gets overwhelmed by options, pick two shirts for him and let him chose between them. Make sure his closet is optimized for your convenience--get rid of anything that is too small or seasonally inappropriate or that he won't wear.

Then think through what you need for your morning routine. If school starts at 8, then maybe you need to be out the door by 7:20 to get there on time, which may mean you are putting shoes on at 7:10 and eating breakfast at 6:30.
So a school routine might look like: Up at 6, potty/teeth/hair by 6:10, Get dressed by 6:30, Come eat breakfast, Get your lunchbox at 7, Tie shoes at 7:10, get your backpack and out the door. Obviously the exact details will vary (my kid still can't tie his shoes). You can break this down into a schedule with times and pictures and post them on the wall so you can point to each step in the process: "Look, it's 7:00, time to put down our spoons and get our lunch!"

At each stage, try to avoid getting mad/angry/frustrated, because that creates a lot of negativity that can impact things later down the road--if getting his shoes tied always makes mom and dad angry because he messes up and then it takes too long, he may start thinking "tying my shoes is bad because mom and dad get mad." Instead, try to make things into games or use silly songs to move things along. For example, at that age I introduced the "toothbrush song." The toothbrush song is just a silly song about toothbrushing I'd sing while we all brushed our teeth. "Gonna brush brush brush, brusha my teeth." In the morning I sing the wake up song, "Good morning, good morning, good morning to you, good morning oh my sweetheart/s." Or make it a competition: "I bet I can eat my eggs faster than you can" (and then let them win most of the time, of course.) Or "Oh no, I don't remember what we do next! Is it time to take our bath? No? Is it time to put our shoes on? Oh silly mommy."

The more you make them laugh and enjoy themselves, the more they'll want to do what you want them to do.

Good luck :)



Pteranomom
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22 Apr 2022, 1:25 pm

Also, when it comes to carrots/sticks, remember that when it comes to parts of this process, you have to keep it very simple and very short. You can't say, "Go brush your teeth, brush your hair, use the potty, get dressed, and come down to breakfast." That's too many things. If your kid gets halfway through and then hung up on using the potty, say, you want to be able to address the potty problem specifically, rather than say at the end, an hour and a half later, "you were late to school and that was bad, so here is your punishment." The punishment is too far away from the problem. If the problem is he keeps flushing the potty too many times (I'm just making this up,) then you can institute a 1-flush rule, give him a mini m&m for only flushing it once, and if he flushes it twice, eat the m&m yourself. Or something appropriate to your household--different kids respond to different things. Yours might respond well to a hearty "Good job! Thank you for only flushing the toilet once." You also want to make the rewards specific, so he knows what he's doing right. If he brushes his teeth without prompting, give him a hug and tell him how proud you are. And always give him a chance to make things right--you don't want some small thing to derail your entire morning. Get back on track and keep going.



HiccupHaddock
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22 Apr 2022, 2:36 pm

Thank you so much for your very helpful replies!

Yes, that is a great idea to focus more on our routines. We have tried to establish a routine with some times for different things (e.g. getting out of bed, eating breakfast, brushing teeth, etc.) and we help our son with all those steps. It sometimes all goes more or less on time, but most days we seem to get a bit behind, and now and day for some reason there is a day when it goes really badly (my son is very slow and drags his feet, we lose patience, he then seems to go slower and slower, and we all end up stressed). I think the challenge for us is to remain patient and calm even when we are getting very late and he is clearly going to be late for school. I have to dig very deep to find those reserves of patience and calm! Some days I wake up tired and headachy and then it almost seems impossible. I think on those days I am not the best Mum. I admire those like you Pteranomom who can cope with more than one child in the morning. It encourages me though that you also have struggles to stay on time, that I am not the only one to find this difficult.



HiccupHaddock
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22 Apr 2022, 2:49 pm

Thank you timf for your advice about the discipline. We sometimes manage to use a 'carrot' approach, e.g. persuade our son to do things with the promise of a treat like a new book (he loves reading). We also have tried to see if a 'stick' approach, e.g. say he won't get dessert if he's refusing to put on his school clothes and we're getting late for school. However, that tends to just make him immediately very stressed and upset, and he just wants to curl up in his bed and cry with his teddy. I think that although he is 7, he is really very young inside, and very vulnerable. Sometimes other people have told us that we should be stricter with him, but I feel he is very easily upset and very anxious. I think he just has trouble understanding the world, e.g. why an earth do adults insist on starting school at 9am, when it would be much more comfortable to stay in bed longer, have a nice long relaxing read during breakfast, and dawdle into school about 10.30am? We try to explain but I do think he feels he is on the 'wrong planet' and we are a bit crazy to be so time-obsessed.



HiccupHaddock
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22 Apr 2022, 2:56 pm

Thank you Ettina for your comment about the demand avoidance. I'm wondering what does it feel like to be demand-avoidant, and why does it occur? I try to imagine it but am not sure if I really understand it. I heard Tony Atwood say that is related to high anxiety. I'm not sure if that means that anxiety makes somebody demand-avoidant? My son is definitely very anxious, so it's possible that when we ask him to get dressed for school, he picks up an anxious vibe when we are getting stressed, and this makes him anxious and stressed and then his anxious state means our requests to get dressed become too much for him to cope with and he sort of becomes paralysed and avoids doing anyting? I do feel that we sort of make each other anxious: when he is not wanting to get dressed for school, I then become anxious, I tell him we're going to be late, he gets more anxious and seems to want even less to get dressed, then I become more anxious as we're getting even later, and so on... we end up in a vicious circle. I wonder if I understood a bit better about demand avoidance, I could avoid this happening. I know that the first thing is probably for me to control my own anxiety better, I wish I was better at that (not always easy..)



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22 Apr 2022, 9:41 pm

HiccupHaddock wrote:
I have to dig very deep to find those reserves of patience and calm! Some days I wake up tired and headachy and then it almost seems impossible. I think on those days I am not the best Mum.

Make sure you are taking care of yourself, too. None of us is at our best when feeling tired and hungry and frazzled. Personally, I have to eat breakfast (and get my coffee) in the morning or I am just not functional, so I always wake up before the big kids and take care of myself first. Once I've had my coffee, then I can help everyone else. Try to make sure you're getting what you need, too.

Oh man, I've gotten frustrated and lost my cool more times than I care to admit, but I tell myself that each day is a chance to be a little better.



Pteranomom
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22 Apr 2022, 10:29 pm

HiccupHaddock wrote:
However, that tends to just make him immediately very stressed and upset, and he just wants to curl up in his bed and cry with his teddy.

Aww, poor little guy. :_(

You know, every kid is different, and what works well with one kid can be a complete disaster with another. With my kids, I can yell, "Hey, stop jumping on the couch!" and one will hop off the couch and say "ok, mom," one will ignore me and keep jumping, and the third will burst into tears because I was too loud. Oh no.

I don't know what demand-avoidant means, but what you describe sounds similar to how I was as a child, and I can describe that: I adored my mom and hated disappointing her. When I was in trouble it felt like my whole self would shut down, like a robot trying to run on half power. My brain would stop working, like words and sentences couldn't make it through. I couldn't talk. Obviously I didn't move in this state. I was like one of those animals that plays dead to avoid predators.

One of my kids reacts this way, too. You can see it in his eyes when he just shuts down. Then trying to "get through to him" by getting louder or punishing him for not moving, as I've explained to my husband, simply doesn't work. At most you'll just make him cry. You have to get him "rebooted" with hugs and reassurances before he'll get moving again.

Unfortunately, when you have a disabled kid, you will always have some know-it-all blaming your parenting and telling you that all of your problems would go away if you just disciplined them more. It's total bulls***t. (Am I allowed to say that word here?) I can use the same discipline on all of my kids and get radically different results. My eldest never needed more than 10 second time-outs to get the idea he shouldn't do something. My second child could sit in time-out for half an hour and go right back to misbehaving. If my mother had her way, he'd have 2 or 3 hour long time-outs every day. I don't believe in that. My goal isn't to punish the child; my goal is to get misbehavior to stop so he can live a good life.

By the way, how are your son's energy levels generally? If he's slow to do things all the time, not just in the morning, there could be other issues going on, like health problems.

Another idea: my son loves it when I include his stuffed animals in our activities. For example, his toy cat loves "meow-math" and wants him to do math with it. Can teddy help somehow with getting dressed? Maybe he can show off for teddy how fast he can get his pants on, or teddy can cheer when he finishes (but in a way that doesn't lead to getting sidetracked by playing with teddy. Teddy must be very excited about getting out the door quickly and eager to hear all about what happened at school when he gets home.)

Good luck; your son sounds like a real sweetheart.



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23 Apr 2022, 5:37 am

timf wrote:
For most of human history people of all ages have been motivated by both a carrot and a stick. in modern times many have postulated that a "stick" is not necessary. I think you are discovering that this thesis is not completely supportable.

External discipline has the objective of helping a child develop self-discipline. If the child has trouble getting ready on time, the parent can provide a consequence such that the child is motivated to exercise the self-discipline to do so.


This advice would definitely have made my problems getting ready for school so much worse. Instead of just not being able to organize myself enough to get ready, I'd have actively wanted to not get ready just to prove that punishment can't control me.



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23 Apr 2022, 5:44 am

HiccupHaddock wrote:
Thank you Ettina for your comment about the demand avoidance. I'm wondering what does it feel like to be demand-avoidant, and why does it occur? I try to imagine it but am not sure if I really understand it. I heard Tony Atwood say that is related to high anxiety. I'm not sure if that means that anxiety makes somebody demand-avoidant? My son is definitely very anxious, so it's possible that when we ask him to get dressed for school, he picks up an anxious vibe when we are getting stressed, and this makes him anxious and stressed and then his anxious state means our requests to get dressed become too much for him to cope with and he sort of becomes paralysed and avoids doing anyting? I do feel that we sort of make each other anxious: when he is not wanting to get dressed for school, I then become anxious, I tell him we're going to be late, he gets more anxious and seems to want even less to get dressed, then I become more anxious as we're getting even later, and so on... we end up in a vicious circle. I wonder if I understood a bit better about demand avoidance, I could avoid this happening. I know that the first thing is probably for me to control my own anxiety better, I wish I was better at that (not always easy..)


That's pretty accurate - it's all about anxiety. In particular, one of my worst fears is being controlled by someone else, and when I feel like someone is trying to control me, I get really terrified. Pretty much nothing short of death terrifies me as much as the thought of having to give in when someone has set off my fear of being controlled. (In fact, I remember in school, as a conflict was starting, thinking "they can't kill me" to reassure myself.)

And yeah, if the anxiety gets too high, I just can't do anything. It can get to the point where I can't even move. I think it's called shutdown at that point.

The vicious cycle was definitely a thing that happened for us, too. My Dad in particular had a workplace that was really nasty to him about being late, and he felt ashamed whenever he showed up late, so he added a lot of fuel to the fire of our "getting ready" conflicts.



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27 Apr 2022, 1:14 pm

I'm sorry I didn't reply until now. Thank you all so much for your helpful and kind replies.
It makes me feel better to hear that other families also have some issues.
I think I need to better manage on my own anxiety about him being late for school (and me being late for work), so that I can support him better. I think he does get very anxious if he feels we're trying to control him, he doesn't like orders or being rushed. I think I am beginning to understand that is something I need to take into account more and try to be more patient.
I find that if I tell myself that it's ok if we arrive by 10am (even though we are supposed to arrive by 9am), then I feel much calmer and things seem to go smoother.
This morning my son was very late getting up, he wouldn't get out of bed, which was quite stressful as I wanted to get to work on time. Luckily I managed to keep pretty calm. Later I asked him why he wouldn't get up, and he said I woke him in the middle of a pleasant dream and was trying to get back into the dream, which makes me smile! I wonder what the dream was about! I guess there is a funny side to it all too : )
Thanks a million for your help!