Applying the ‘Four Agreements’ to Autism Parenting, Part II

Girl with backpack holding mother's hand, differential focusIn the first part of this series, I discussed how The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz, can be applied to parenting children with autism. In his book, Ruiz explains how we can live a happier, more fulfilled life when we live by the following:

  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  2. Don’t take anything personally.
  3. Don’t make assumptions.
  4. Always do your best.

Part I covered the first two agreements. In this article, I will cover the last two.

3. Don’t Make Assumptions

We’re all aware of what happens when we make assumptions: misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and undue anxiety. When we assume something, it is believed to be true. We often make this mistake because we are afraid to ask for clarification. Our brains are designed to fill in the missing pieces, and they do so automatically.

So when your child with autism takes his pants off, without warning, in the middle of class, there are several assumptions you might make as a parent: no one was watching him; he’s too much trouble and now maybe the teacher doesn’t like him; he was misbehaving “on purpose” to get attention; all of the above.

We can really get our minds into a tailspin when we make assumptions. It’s always better to ask for clarification from the person who has most of the information—in this case, the teacher. In my child’s case, he usually takes his pants off when he has to go to the bathroom. Imagine the needless suffering I’d be subjecting myself to if I assumed all of the above.

It’s also easy to make assumptions about children who are limited in their communication abilities. Many of our kids experience pain or discomfort when they bang their heads or otherwise self-injure. Most of the parents I speak with assume that this is “part of autism” or make other assumptions about their child’s behavior. This can be one of the most difficult parts of autism.

I usually recommend that parents, rather than making assumptions, try to clarify with their child what’s going on. Have patience. It took several years for me to teach my child, who is limited in his verbal abilities, how to use words and signs to indicate his tummy or head hurt. Now, more often, when I ask, “What’s wrong?” he can tell me rather than whack me on the head. We call that progress.

Unfortunately, the very nature of autism spectrum issues makes assuming easy to do. People with autism often appear as if they aren’t listening, when in reality they hear and understand even those conversations taking place in the next room. Their limited eye contact leads us to demand they “look at us” when we speak because we assume it will increase their ability to take in information.

Often, the opposite is true. Many people on the spectrum cannot concentrate on what you’re saying and maintain eye contact simultaneously.

4. Always Do Your Best

This last agreement sounds simple and straightforward, but is more complex than it seems. Abiding by it helps the other three agreements become habitual.

Ruiz warns us in this chapter to remember that our best is different from one moment to the next. It’s possible for us to try to do too much and consequently burn ourselves out. When my child is up half the night (which means I am, too) I need to be aware of my limitations and speak to myself with kindness. I may need to take a sick day from work or cancel whatever I had planned that evening in order to catch up on rest. Some days when my child is having a rough time, allowing him to watch videos rather than go to speech therapy might be the “best” we both can do. (I realize I may invite differing opinions on that last statement; feel free.) When you do your best, you learn to accept yourself and your child just the way you both are.

Doing your best means you’re more likely to live in the moment; your awareness of why you’re doing what you do will increase. The moments when we want to procrastinate preparing for that meeting may be moments when we aren’t doing our best and need to ask for help.

Remember that kids on the spectrum are always doing their best, even when they “misbehave.” Life in our demanding world is hard for them, and they require a great deal of patience, empathy, and understanding. Practicing Ruiz’s “four agreements” in my daily life have increased these qualities in myself, and made me a better parent. It’s my hope that they will do the same for you.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Janeen Herskovitz, MA, LMHC, therapist in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Candi

    Candi

    November 10th, 2014 at 8:15 AM

    When you learn that you are now the parent of an autistic child, because for some of us the diagnosis is really slow to be recognized, then it almost feels like you are starting completely over. This is a whole new world for most of us, and many of us are not even sure what it is we are facing when we are dealt with this harsh new reality. But this is your child and you make it work. We do assume that it will be tough, and it is but there are so many support networks available to you if you just can make the effort to search them out. And you do have to cut yourself a little slack every now and them. We all make mistakes and you will too, but your child will be fine, because like all of us you will keep plodding along and searching for the things that will work the best for you and your family.

  • janeen

    janeen

    November 10th, 2014 at 10:12 AM

    Candi, I couldn’t have said it better myself. Agreed. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • Candi

    Candi

    November 11th, 2014 at 3:43 AM

    You are welcome! I try to be an advocate for all parents of kids on the spectrum because I know first hand what it is like, and even though my own experience could be different from yours, it is always nice to have someone speak up for you when you want to but you just don’t even have the words.

  • Julianna

    Julianna

    November 11th, 2014 at 10:40 AM

    I am that parent who is always making assumptions about people that I don’t know and who pretty much determines right from the start that someone knows more than what I know or they do a better job than what I do. I am not sure where all of this comes from but I do have to say that it has really done me a lot of disservice, i can’t say that anything positive has ever come from making these kinds of assumptions and yet here I am, 40 years old, and still hanging to doing the same old things, thinking that it will do something different for me and (surprise!) always getting the same results time and again.

  • whitt

    whitt

    November 11th, 2014 at 3:55 PM

    Julianna- while I appreciate the bravery and honesty in your response, let me say that as a parent of an autistic child it would be nice every once in a while if those who do not understand would make the effort to ask and actually understand before jumping to conclusions about our child. Our child is a wonderful young man, he just has some differences that unless you know him you maybe cannot appreciate. But I would love to talk with you some and answer some of your questions so that you could break free from some of this that you possibly feel is holding you back- and you might be amazed at the richness that some others could one day add to your life.

  • Blake

    Blake

    November 12th, 2014 at 3:46 AM

    I am always trying to live up to what I think that others ill think is my best and not what I would consider to be my best and there is a huge difference in that.
    I think that if I could let go of some of those expectations that I think that other people have of me I could live a lot freer, but being the people pleaser that I am that is a hard one to even try to give up.

  • janeen

    janeen

    November 12th, 2014 at 6:52 AM

    Julianna, thank you for sharing that. I can relate. The best way to remedy that is to be patient with yourself; old habits die hard. You’re already on the right path if you can see that what you’re doing isn’t working. Now, just catch yourself when you make an assumption, examine that belief and disagree with it. If you haven’t read the Four Agreements, I highly recommend it. It’s a life-changer.

  • janeen

    janeen

    November 12th, 2014 at 10:56 AM

    Blake, what a great point. That’s exactly the issue people struggle with when it comes to people pleasing; Figure out what your best looks like and go with it! (easier said than done, I know.)

  • janeen

    janeen

    November 12th, 2014 at 11:01 AM

    Whitt, I didn’t think Julianna was talking about judging our ASD kids when she said that, I think she was referring to assuming things about other people in general. Although I completely agree people should ask about our kids before making assumptions about them. They do have so much more to offer than what appears to be. Thanks for sharing and for your offer to be that conduit to understanding.

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