As some of you know my son recently got a tortoise for his birthday. This wasn’t a snap decision it was two years in the planning, both my son and more importantly I, thought about it, did our research and made sure we were ready. My son was delighted with his tiny tortoise when he got him three weeks ago. He named him Clyde and was getting up early to switch on his light and loved to watch him roaming around his enclosure.
The other morning however, I came downstairs to find my son was already up, he told me he had seen to Clyde, so I asked him if he wanted to go on a hunt for some weeds to feed him but instead of answering he just burst into tears. It took a long time (over an hour) to get my son to open up and longer still for him to find the words to explain what he wanted to say. He needed help to do so which involved me asking him yes or no questions and then helping him find the right words and identify his emotions so he could say how he felt.
As it turned out he was simply overwhelmed by the responsibility of owning a pet that could out live him, although he was enjoying it now the weight of the future sat heavily on his shoulders. No rationalising or explaining or offering solutions helped. No he had made up his mind, even though it made him really sad, even though he didn’t know how to explain to his dad, Clyde had to go despite him seemly being distraught at the prospect.
My first instinct I’ll admit was one of panic and frustration, I mean we planned this! He was the one who wanted it. He seemed to be enjoying it. It was his pet and he should take responsibility. Now I was going to have to find another home for Clyde, one who knew about tortoises, one that would take care of him as well as we would, people would think I just got a pet and got rid of him when my son was bored and so on.
All this went on in my head, I didn’t voice any of it. Once of the things having a PDA Autistic child has taught me is to stay calm and not react in the moment or think out loud. Instead I took a deep breath, hugged my son and said we will work this out. By doing this it gave me time and space to think and avoided an escalation of the anxiety he was feeling and a possible meltdown.
An hour later And with a little creative thinking I had the solution. I told my son that if he wanted I would take Clyde from him, take care of him, that he would now be my pet, I’d move him downstairs until he was old enough to live in his outside enclosure and work out his future care. That he could either be involved with Clyde’s care if he wanted or not if he didn’t but there was no pressure, from now on he was my responsibility. Of course all of this other than bringing him downstairs was what I would of done anyway as parents ultimately have the responsibility for their children’s pets but it is not something that had been voiced.
I saw the relief sweep over my son and a huge smile came over his face as he agreed. Since then he has continued to care for Clyde in just the same ways as before but the pressure is lifted so he can enjoy doing it without anxiety building because of the weight of the demand. Things could of been so different if I had just gone with my initial feelings or scolded him for not taking responsibility or even simply rehomed the little tortoise depriving him the experience of having him around. Dealing with it this way on the other hand means my son is able to enjoy caring for a pet, learning and growing as a result.
With a little creative thinking I was able to help my son say yes to something he wanted to do but was too overcome by the demands associated with it to know how to. This is a skill that grows with time and the key to it, i have found, is accepting and acknowledging that the overwhelm the child feels is real and crippling and, not to react in the moment out of confusion or disappointment or anything else.
As adults, we can either become a block by forcing demands on our child or, be a guide to finding a path through or around demands and so allow the PDA child to experience the things they love simply by using a little creative thinking.