Q is for Quiet
And you thought I’d struggle with a ‘Q’ post! Quiet is not a word I often associate with my children. They both seem to make more noise than your average little one. I tend to think of quietness or loudness being a personality trait. In many ways it seems fixed, but as with all things to do with personality- nothing is set in stone.
I was a very quiet and shy child. I’m still very much an introvert who likes being at home, and can find busy social events somewhat tiring. But I’m far less shy and quiet than I once was. Perhaps some people meeting me now wouldn’t consider me that way at all. Maybe the social demands on me have required a stronger presence. Maybe character is really something that shifts depending on the situation.
Spectrummy Daddy and our children don’t tend to be quiet very often. Cubby talks incessantly around his family and friends, but becomes quieter when he is nervous. When he first started school, his teacher wasn’t sure he was verbal. His current teacher wonders if he can ever stop talking.
While peace and quiet is a state I relish, when it comes to Pudding, it can mean something is very wrong. If she is very upset or overwhelmed, she retreats into herself. It is agony for a mother to see her child hurting without knowing the cause. Believe me when I say I prefer her meltdowns to be of the explosive kind. That way we are at least immediately aware of how she feels, and we can do our best to get her needs met.
So, partly because it seems unnatural for my family to be quiet, and partly because withdrawal is far worse, we don’t make many demands on the children to be quiet. Little children are seen and heard, expressing themselves and engaging with us.
But there are times when quiet is necessary, and I’ve realized lately that at those times, Pudding appears to be incapable of being quiet. Recently at a gathering at the Consulate, Pudding was fine until speeches were being made and I asked her to be quiet. From that point on, she became disruptive and demanding. Our community is very supportive, but as they were the only children there, I couldn’t help but feel the focus of unwanted attention.
I tried distracting her with snacks. She would loudly refuse them, or demand others. I tired distracting her with books, “I’M READING…PUDDING’S READING…I’M READING A BOOK!” and drawing, “PUDDING’S DRAWING A PICTURE, I’M DRAWING A PICTURE, MUMMY DRAW A PICTURE!.” The more embarrassed I became, the more she acted up. Eventually I removed her from the situation, and she immediately calmed down.
I knew I was doing something wrong, but I was too close to the problem to figure out a solution. Yesterday I raised the issue in a meeting with Pudding’s therapeutic team, who immediately saw where I’d gone wrong, and offered alternative approaches.
They suggested looking at the ability to keep quiet, a real struggle for a child with autism and ADHD, as a skill that she needs to learn. The best time to learn a skill is not in socially demanding situations, but when everyone is calm and comfortable (including me). Oh I know, so obvious once somebody else points it out!
Pudding is not in an ABA program, but because the intended result (being quiet) is so inherently unrewarding for her, this was a good occasion to use a positive reinforcement approach. So yesterday we made a game of it with Pudding and Cubby. We played “Quiet Time” using a one minute countdown on my phone. If they managed to keep quiet for the whole minute, they earned a pink smartie (imagine a european M&M, American readers). Pudding managed it twice, but Cubby was the real winner at this game. I probably need to reduce the length of time to 30 seconds next time we play, and then increase it from there.
It is too early yet to tell if this approach will work, or if Pudding will be able to generalize it to more demanding situations. But I like to think that this is a skill she can learn, rather than a fixed character trait. After all, if I can learn to become more forward and resolute in advocating for my children, that surely means that we can nurture the traits in ourselves that are most useful to us at any given time.
So Q is for Quiet. A handy skill at times, but not always the most essential tool. The art of knowing when to keep quiet and when to speak out is a skill most of us keep developing throughout our lives. I’m certain my children will be no exception.
This post is part of my A-Z series. You can read the rest by clicking >here<.