Kevin Bell

4 things I’m Teaching My 4 year old Autistic Daughter That Most Adults Struggle With

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Kevin Bell

Photo by Ashkan Forouzani on Unsplash

Being a parent of a child on the spectrum brings more joy into your life than most can imagine.

Being autistic is not a diagnosis, or at least in the way that most think about that term. It’s just a unique way to be human.

You really don’t fully understand unless you’re in it. And when you’re in, you’re in. Even me as a parent, I will never fully understand the full spectrum of my daughter’s thoughts or the way she processes life, but until my very last breath, I will attempt to.

Each and every child is different. Each situation is very unique. But when you see a bumper sticker of the autism puzzle piece on another car as you’re driving along, you feel like if anyone gets it, they might.

Also, I am NO expert. I’ve read a few books and listened to podcasts, been part of countless physical, occupational, speech therapy sessions, gone to conferences, etc… but I’m still just scratching the surface.

It truly is a spectrum. It’s a spectrum from child to child, it’s a spectrum of emotions from one minute to the next. It’s a spectrum of behaviors. It’s a spectrum of talents and abilities.

It’s a lot.

And I’m still learning something new every single day. Honestly, most of the time I’m totally flying by the seat of my pants, HOPING that what I said or did, doesn’t completely scar her.

2 Years Ago:

My wife and I had a moment where we realized that what we really needed to do, more than anything, was to 1. Love this girl unconditionally and show her that love each and every day and 2. Prepare her for life the VERY best we can.

The first one is easy. That comes naturally.

The second one took a little thought.

So that’s what we did. We thought and thought and then thought some more. Through observation, personal experience, talking to her teachers and intuition, the following 4 points are the main items we currently focus on to prepare her the best we can.

Through the discovery of these items, we realized that these don’t JUST apply to her, they apply to all of us.

These are skills learned over time that MOST adults struggle with on a daily basis. Myself included. Let’s dive in.

Self regulation:

This breaks down to finding calm within chaos. That chaos can be completely self imposed, but chaos nonetheless. Life is unpredictable and for those of us that find comfort in routine, predictability and a planned out schedule, when life knocks you off that track, you and you alone are responsible for letting yourself snowball or to simply shrug it off and move on.

The feelings are going to be there. The anxiety will rise. The thoughts racing where EVERYTHING feels out of control… but within that mess, we have to be able to self regulate.

To do this, we teach her to close her eyes and count to 10 out loud. Sometimes 20.

Right now, it’s my wife and I that are walking her through this, wiping tears off her cheeks and holding her tight. But the more we do it, the more she catches herself and begins counting on her own when she feels it coming on.

And that’s the lesson for all of us here. FEEL it coming on and use the tools at your disposal to self regulate.

Breaking The Cycle:

Essentially, that is what you are doing with what we just discussed. But what makes this lesson stand on its own is the ability to be conscious of the cycle that you’re in.

To recognize what you are experiencing and to actively work to break it.

Life knocks us off track and we start to snowball internally about how that ONE event is affecting everything else. Those feelings start to rise up, the thoughts racing, the tunnel vision on what went wrong in the first place, and back around again and again.

It’s a vicious cycle that has to be broken in order to regulate and move forward. We’ve all been there.

But how do we break this cycle?

We help her redirect her thoughts to other things. I’ll start asking her about her favorite colors or what she had to eat today or for her to tell me some of her favorite animals.

Just SOMETHING to get her to think about anything outside of the cycle. Break the pattern. Focus on something else.

It doesn’t always work. She’s smart. Sometimes she wants to sit in that frustration and live in the cycle.

I can’t blame her. I know that feeling. The feeling of WANTING to be mad. We have all been to the point where we want to let the frustration roll longer than we should.

And that’s ok. Be mad. Enjoy the mad. But then be done.

If those specific questions to break the cycle don’t work, we try to redirect her to another activity. Sometimes it’s grabbing a book and reading with her, sometimes it’s going outside and playing, sometimes it’s making a snack that I know she likes. We try it all and see what sticks in the moment.

But right there is where we find the lesson. We all need tricks in our tool belt for ourselves when we realize that we are in that cycle.

Do we need to go outside and take a walk? Pick up a good book and get lost for a bit? Make some comfort food?

Find those things that can help you break the cycle so that you don’t soak in your anger too long.

Identifying and Verbalizing Feelings:

Communication is key. Not just in a workplace environment, but in life.

I’m not saying that you have to be a chatterbox. But the easier it is for you to communicate how you’re feeling, the more control you will have over your feelings and your environment.

Emotions have a way of flowing out of us from time to time. Whether we are in that vicious cycle or maybe we are just tired and having a tough day.

We feel what we feel.

I’m not trying to take that away from anyone here, but it’s important you KNOW what those feelings are, identify them and if needed, verbalize them. Given the appropriate situation of course.

My daughter has long days! She is in so many different sessions throughout the week. On top of that she has school and a younger sister that gets on her nerves. The mental and physical exhaustion wears on her and the emotions pour out. Sometimes in a physical way.

She might reach out and hit my wife or I, or push her sister and pull her hair.

It might be that she throws whatever she is holding across the room or hits the wall.

The feelings come out in a physical manner as a raw reaction to all that has been building up inside.

It’s super reactive. Explosive even.

But we can’t allow that kind of reaction. That reaction is the same reaction of someone that has road rage, someone that starts bar fights, someone that goes ballistic on a waiter or waitress at a restaurant. Those reactions are not ok.

To work her through those feelings in order to control them as they come up, we help her identify them by “mirroring”.

We read the situation and approach as we start to see things escalate.

“Honey, I see you’re frustrated right now. Are you frustrated because Sister is in your space? It’s okay to be frustrated, just tell Sister ‘I’m frustrated, can you please leave me alone’…”

We call out the feeling and bring it to the forefront then work with her on how to communicate her feelings verbally before she blows up.

The more times we do this, the more times we hear HER doing this before we even have to step in. Super cool.


None of this is easy. But growth is not found within easy things.

As an adult, the most pride I’ve had doing anything has been when I’ve overcome challenges that once were hard.

It’s from the initial struggle, the learning, the processing through and figuring out, that brings the feeling of accomplishment and success.

To even BEGIN that journey, you have to step outside of what you are used to.

To embrace change.

To welcome adaptation and growth.

With all the growing pains that might come along with it.

This is where flexibility comes in.

Every single day, situations come up that lead to the need to be flexible.

Traffic is slow. Work throws you a curveball at the end of the day. Your AC needs repair. Your kids stay home sick.

Things happen and we have two choices.

  1. We can let those situations completely control our reaction and everything about our day from that point on


  1. We can leverage the only thing we actually have control over; our reactions.

It’s not easy to do. Like I’ve said before, it feels good to sit in anger. But that doesn’t help us do a darn thing.

This is why we work with her so heavily on this.

When something happens that breaks her down, we respond cool, calm and collected:

“No biggie, it happens. Let’s figure something else out to do…”

We talk her through the disappointment and help her understand what being flexible means and how to roll with the punches.

As parents, our reactions and voice become the inner and self talk of our children

Let me say that again:

Our reactions and voice become the inner and self-talk of our children.

That’s BIG. That’s HEAVY. But it’s true.

Everything we say and do, shapes who our children become. On the spectrum or not.

As parents we are going to mess up 1 million times over.

I anticipate it and accept that.

I’m not perfect, nor do I want my kids to be.

I just want to set them up for as much success in life as possible.

Each and every one of these concepts is difficult. I know plenty of adults that struggle with one or more of these.

But they aren’t impossible. Not for an adult to learn and not for a 4 year old to learn.

Being on the spectrum shouldn’t change the lesson. It might change the approach, or the tone, but the integrity of the lesson should still remain.

Next time you feel those deep feels coming on, just know that you can work yourself through it. Take some deep breaths, count to 10, grab a book to read and share your thoughts if you need to. Break that cycle and remember that in the grand scheme of things, whatever is bothering you will pass.

#Girl Dad