Discipline, Race, and the Spectrum… How we set expectations for our Black children with Autism and ADHD in today’s world

This country does not make it easy for Black kids.  It’s become a sad norm to see news stories and videos of Black kids being “mistaken” for criminals and beaten and/or killed on video.  This is the state of the world in which we live.  We are going backwards when it comes to issues on race. We are forced to not only teach our children the appropriate way to behave but also teach them how to handle themselves in possible interactions with law enforcement.  In some of the households I know of, other mothers do not have this fear or worry because they are raising White children who will really never have to worry about how their skin color will affect their chances of finding a job, buying a home in a particular neighborhood, and in their daily commutes.  Meanwhile this is every Black parent’s reality.  And as such, we have the duty to equip our children with the tools and knowledge they need to survive as Black people in America.

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There is history all around us in this city.  It’s imperative that we explore it all, especially that which specifically wrote our story.

Discipline is a natural part of this home training.  But what happens when your child of color carries a diagnosis that is not evident upon his or her face… one that directly impacts his or her behavior… one that could possibly cause behaviors which might be misinterpreted as disrespect or acting out?  How can we effectively discipline then while keeping in mind that their brains might process things a little differently than ours do?  How do we make a point without doing too much?

Here are 5 things I keep in mind when correcting my children:

Regardless of how I see them and what I know about them, this country, generally speaking, will see them only one way.  And it is my job that my children are educated about this reality.

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I avoid using the old adage “you have to be twice as good”- in words.  My children are very visual so I let my actions do the teaching.

I put them in charge- to an extent.  I allow my children to make choices, between the choices I give them so that they feel as though they are being given this power to choose for themselves.  When an action invokes a negative consequence, we talk about ways we could’ve made another choice.  And when their choices have positive outcomes, we celebrate.

We create fair, and realistic expectations for our children using what interests them.  We expect our children to do their very best in school and provide additional support to ensure they are successful.  But we implement things that interest them, especially in areas where they struggle or show no interest

To support these expectations, we have created visual schedules and reward charts, as well as written reminders throughout the house.  I have learned to adjust my expectations of parenting to reflect the uniqueness of our family.  So although I hate repeating myself, repetition leads to learning.  And adding anything visual to that, only reinforces the idea so that it becomes learned behavior.

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Finally, we do not allow our children to use their challenges as an excuse.  No one is going to care that they have a diagnosis or that they learn or understand the world in a different way.  And so while they know of their conditions, we do not encourage them to use it as a crutch.  We adjust expectations to meet them where they are, but we still expect them to finish the race nonetheless.

I realize some of what I might have just written is a little vague.  I meant it to read that way because what works for one child doesn’t always work for another.  We want our children, more than anything else, to be happy and find success in whatever makes them happy, regardless of what subtle differences they might have.  But we are serious about training them up to be well-capable, confident, and happy humans who have a fighting chance to succeed in this climate.  Our climate right now can be discouraging for children of color coming up; they are seeing the blatant hate that has existed in this country that was more subtle when my generation was coming up.  And so with that in mind, we have to discipline our children in a way that reflects the climate of our country, training them to be strong, determined, and persistent individuals.  That when faced with hatred, bigotry, and unfair treatment, they will be able to use that as motivation for further success.  We discipline in ways that discourage choices that hurt themselves or others and encourage choices that help them grow into caring and encouraged individuals.  But most of all, it is important that our children know and love who they are and are given the tools they need to be more than what our country might limit them to be based on their skin color or by how they learn.  Our children will be the coffee beans when placed in boiling water- that heat will encourage their truest and best selves to be revealed and they will avoid allowing hard times to make them too soft, or resist the urge to harden their hearts when faced with unfortunate situations.

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How do you address race with your children?

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