Disclaimer: By know means am I an expert in psychology or physiology. The below discussion is expressly my own experience as a father of a child with autism, and participation in a 6-week anger management program.
Anyone who has spent considerable time caring for children with autism will likely understand that often many days are a challenge. There are challenges that must be overcome everyday. Whether you’re handling daily tasks such as personal healthcare or transitioning from one activity to the next, whether you’re dealing with over-stimulation or under-stimulation, or whether you’re simply trying to decompress, we often only consider how we can accept, moderate, and modify the behaviour of our children to accomplish the daily goals.
This blog, however, is not that “can-of-worms”, so to speak.
This blog is some advice how conscious monitoring of your own behaviour, identifying triggers, and avoiding these triggers can benefit yourself and your children.
There are many theories regarding anger, this is a simplified discussion which will hopefully provide some insight or encourage those that don’t have a functional balance currently, to seek out an anger management program.
Remember: Anger isn’t bad! Anger allows us to identify when change is needed, provides motivation to change, fight injustice, overcome fear, inform others of trouble, notify others you will act offensive, protect ourselves, and survive. Anger is actually a normal response. Anger however, can become dangerous when it manifests itself as hate, hurting others, revenge, or fear.
There are involuntary physiological responses that help you identify anger. Increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, reddened skin, tense muscles, and the tendency to act offensive. You are ultimately responsible for your behaviour and self-control is the difference between constructive and destructive anger. The ability to identify anger is essential in controlling anger that manifests itself negatively and preventing anger in inappropriate circumstances, like childcare.
2) Trigger – Identifying triggers is key to understanding and controlling anger. Identify activities which you find often lead to anger. Identify topics or actions brought up by other which can be triggers. Avoiding activities that are triggers can be handy, but often not realistic. Once you have identified the triggers, many people have found that when confronted by a trigger they consciously identify it and de-escalate the situation at that time. If you are unable to identify triggers then you may find yourself at 3) and unable to change your course of action.
3) Escalation – Agitation or anger triggers generally are escalated either by seeking out or being pursued. There are many different theories on how you progress from 2) to 3) to 4). Anger can escalate through a dominance contest, often if you prevail you may feel bad for insulting, challenging, or retaliating. One the other side if you capitulate you may feel resentful, passive, isolated, or vengeful. Anger can also escalate through rage, violence, venting, sniping, hostility, withdrawal, as well as many others. People often find once they reach a point of escalation it is too late to change your course of action.
4) Peak – At some point anger is resolved, and you being the long process of resuming the normal calm physiological attributes.
5) De-Escalation – As your physiology begins to normalize, you often reflect on your actions from 3) and 4). Many people feel genuine remorse, forgiveness, acceptance, apology or in negative circumstances feel as a scapegoat, rumination, or revenge. This is often a good time to calm, decompress, and identify the triggers from 2) which led to the inappropriate behaviour.
6) Recovery – This can often be the most challenging phase. If your used to 3) and 4), that part you find easy. Recovery is where you need to re-establish calm communication that can ultimately resolve the reason for anger originally. It can be difficult, and it’s the word no one likes to hear, compromise. The ability to confront issues without anger, make positive change happen, strategize, and identify solutions is a challenge, but life.
Remember: After the hurricane comes a rainbow.
Children with autism often can’t understand why you are angry, that their actions are causing your anger, and that they are acting inappropriately. In cases where they are over-stimulated or under-stimulated and unable to deal with daily routines, learning, or social situations, if you are able to indentify how this is affecting your emotions and turn it into a productive change instead of escalating, it will make life more enjoyable for yourself and your child with autism.
Thanks for reading,