A Cry for Help

cry-for-help1If you were walking home in the dark one night and heard a female screaming for help, would you view those screams as challenging behaviour? What if you were in a hospital and heard a child cry? Would you see that as challenging, or would you be more sympathetic?

We all understand that the lady screaming on a dark night is desperate for help. We all understand that the child crying in the hospital is scared and does not understand what is going on around him.

So why, when my child with learning difficulties and autism screams and cries, does everyone suddenly see it differently?

Professionals have labelled my child as having “challenging behaviour.” He kicks, pulls hair, scratches, bites, screams, cries, throws himself down stairs, throws objects in temper, headbutts the floor, and attacks people. He is now almost my height and a third of my weight. He is only eight!

He can also be loving, gently, funny, happy, warm, lovely and wonderful.

He has autism and a genetic condition.

Like the lady screaming in fright on a dark night, there are times he is scared. Right now he is terrified of open doors. His anxiety soars, causing adrenaline to pump through his little body to the point where he simply has to react. His challenging behaviour is his way of communicating fear and anxiety.

Professionals tell us to restrain him, speak to him calmly and discipline him. Would we do this to the lady screaming on a dark night? Most people would, in fact, rush to help her, yet people seem to rush to get away from my son when he has the same feeling of fear and life getting out of control. Both scream… both are full of fear… Yet, we call one “challenging behaviour” and the other simply a means of communicating for help in a desperate situation. Perhaps we need to realise that both are the same?

Like the little child we hear crying in the hospital ward who is worried, in pain, and not understanding what is going on around him, so too is my son at times when we take him places he isn’t familiar with or where he doesn’t want to be. Why do we have sympathy for a little child in a hospital ward yet look in distain at my son when he cries in the supermarket aisle?

My son has no speech. His behaviour is the only way he has of getting his message across. How can he communicate that he did not want chicken nuggets for his dinner? One way is to throw them at me. Instead of punishing that behaviour or seeing it as challenging, I prefer to see it as communication and frustration at not being able to say what he wanted.

I don’t want to encourage his behavior, but until I can teach him a better way of communicating, I have to understand his method of “speech.”

When he drags me out the door and onto the street, some professionals feel I should ignore him or restrain him. How then would he be able to show me the reason for his fear?

Yes, I would love him to be calmer, happier and less physical at times. I do discipline and teach him as his difficulties allow, but I want society to stop seeing my child as simply having “challenging behaviour” and see him as a child crying for help. Just like a woman on a dark night or a little boy in a hospital ward.

Perhaps the challenge in his behaviour is actually a challenge to society in a way we never thought about before.

Miriam Gwynne

Founder at Faith Mummy
Miriam lives in Scotland with her husband and twins. Trained as a teacher, she started blogging in 2013 when her son was diagnosed with the genetic condition nf1. Both twins have autism and Miriam describes her life as "sometimes challenging, mostly hectic, but always full of love."