Autism · Parenting · Sensory Processing Disorder

Am I Spoiling My Child or Accommodating His Special Needs?

Last week, I sat on yet anther couch and prepared myself for whatever the therapist had to say. She has been working with my son for a few months, I am not involved at all in their sessions. (This is social skills therapy and apparently, mommas aren’t really helpful… I mean he’s almost twelve years old. I get it.)

So as I have sat in the waiting room on a different couch, this therapist has been getting to know my son. For more than two months, she has been sitting on bean bags with him and asking him questions about his life. She has been playing Battleship and Chess with him as a way to discover how he learns and perceives his world.  And up until this meeting, she has said absolutely nothing about what she thinks.

And I am freaking out.

All week-long I have been thinking about all the ways she will likely tell me I am doing this wrong. That the decisions I make in the moment, with very little knowledge, are not helping him.

What I am expecting to hear is that I am spoiling him. What I am sure she will say is that I am too soft, too enabling, and too mothering. I am confident she will question how we educate, medicate, and communicate with him. And I can already feel the shame creeping in, as I think about her questioning his media time, obsession with Minecraft, and lack of exercise.

Am I spoiling my child or accommodating his special needs?

I am not sure how or when this first started. I think it was likely the time I was told that I was hysterical and overreacting at his three-week old well baby check up. But this message of shame and guilt has followed me for almost twelve years now. The image I have of myself is that I am the mom who spoils her kids. It comes from being accused, out loud and by multiple sources, of being the mom who spoils her kids.

When I didn’t let him cry it out (because he didn’t ever actually fall asleep when I tried – he just screamed and screamed for hours), I was that mom.

When I allowed him to go to school in crocs instead of socks and shoes, I was that mom.

When I didn’t force him to eat what had been prepared for everyone else, I was that mom.

After my son’s diagnosis though, everything changed. No one questioned my decisions anymore. In fact, they affirmed them. My oldest and dearest friend actually had the grace and humility to apologize to me for not understanding before.

It doesn’t matter. I still fight so many feelings of shame and insecurity about what I “allow” my son to get away with.

And I know many of you do too.

The #1 question I have received in the past few months from other moms is, “Do you think I am spoiling my child by allowing <fill in the blank>?

Am I Spoiling My Child Or Accommodating His Special Needs?

Is it accommodating him to let him use a calculator instead of memorizing the multiplication tables?

Is it spoiling him to let him go to his room when the noise is too much, instead of eating at the table like the rest of us?

Is it accommodating him to allow him more access to media because he uses it to research and perseverate?

Is it spoiling him to not require him to wear pants instead of shorts, ever, no matter what the weather?

If you read the sentences above, you can interchange spoiling and accommodation in every single one. It’s a fine line… a very fine line.

A line that is difficult to discern even when you are the person closest to the child in question.

So, you understand my anxiety over sitting down with this doctor to discuss my son’s ability to live in this world, after her only being with him once a week for a couple of months.

To my complete disbelief, she affirmed the decisions we are making to accommodate our son. Not only that, she said she was impressed. She has worked with children and adults with autism for twelve years…the same number of years incidentally, that I have also unknowing been working with autism. She said she can see the positive impact our accommodations are having on my son and his self-image.

I was stunned. I think I might have sat there with my mouth wide open as she spoke. I was not prepared for it at all. I started to tear up a little and told her I thought she was going to say I babied him too much.

Her response is why I am writing this today.

I am sharing this, not because I think we have this all figured out.

I am sharing it because I think it is also true for your child. I think you need to hear it too.

Here is how she responded:

An accommodation is something that helps your child function as close to the level as possible of other children who do not have the same special needs. With autism, many accommodations are social accommodations, like not requiring him to eat at the table. Social accommodations are more likely to be perceived as spoiling because the need is not as obvious as the child requiring a wheelchair or hearing aids. Your child has clearly shown us that he needs help to function in certain situations. You are accommodating him so that he can interact with and engage in the world as much as possible. That is not spoiling him. That is helping him. That is being his mom.

If the decisions you make for your child are bringing him closer to the world, closer to emotional stability, and closer to functionality, you are not spoiling him. You are giving him the best possible shot at living his life.

If you have considered all of your options and know that something will help your child to just be a kid and get along in his environment, do it.

I am not an expert. I am not a doctor. I am just a momma, trying to figure this out.

And I am not spoiling my child.


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78 thoughts on “Am I Spoiling My Child or Accommodating His Special Needs?

  1. I have to say I’ve always been a disciplinarian and I’ve actually had to back off on that when it comes to my child. But even as tough as I am on him at times I still have been accused of not being tough enough. His Kindergarten teacher stopped just short of telling me that he’d be fine if I would spank him. Both my husband and my mother wanted me to punish him for having toileting accidents. Still, there are times I don’t know what to do and whether or not his current behavior is just being hardheaded (he is!) or autism. I follow my instincts and fall back on the phrase I keep repeating to myself when I find I’m wrong:

    I did the best I could with the information I had at the time.

    1. I do love that so much, Becky. That is all I think we can ask of ourselves and other mommas.
      God gave us our children for a reason. We need to follow Him and His prompting first in how we raise them.
      Love,
      Shawna

    2. It is, to my knowledge, extremely common for potty accidents in children with Autism. You, as the parent, are their best advocate. As long as you love your child and try to do the best for them, no one else’s opinions matter. I feel there were many times in the start of my journey, as a mom of a daughter with high functioning autism, where I questioned my self due to peer pressures. I learned, mainly through autism support groups, solutions vary widely based on the struggles your child is having.

      My previous and current struggles, one set of grandparents don’t believe it’s even a real diagnosis, we somehow damaged her as a baby, or she’s just in an awkward phase. Pre-diagnosis, we were pinned as terrible parents by the same grandparents but had support from lifetime friends (she’s also my second child). DHR was contacted by my in-laws because “she seemed so scared and distant” and since “it couldn’t be her, it had to be our parenting.”

      It takes years to heal from the stings you receive from family, friends, and whatever persons your dealing with in the school system your child attends. It does get better! You are strong! You’ve got this! You love your child and you are doing what you can to be a super mom. I wouldn’t be surprised if your motto has be similarly quoted by every single loving Mother with a child with disability.

      For us, bathroom accidents were fixed by putting her on a schedule. Independent bathroom breaks came about by a cartoon bathroom steps visual ending with the steps for washing hands. We still have occasional accidents but we know she’s trying and she can’t always feel it coming. (I’ve read teens and adults with high functioning autism still have occasional accidents. I hope we’re helping make that not as likely in her future.)

      My advice may not help your child but in the case of my daughter, when I wondered if the cause was her autism or her hard-headedness, I learned when I was questioning which, it was both at the same time! She would have a pee accident (not her fault!) but then call me to fix the whole problem myself while she just watched (hard-headedness). She still gets a snotty nose and occasionally repeats over and over, “I need a tissue!” At some point in asking she remembers, ‘oh yeah! This is my job. I can get one myself!’

      Our bathroom routine to promote more independence is still current and has been working for 2 1/2 years. When she has an accident, these are the steps she follows:
      1) tell an adult so you can receive help.
      2) wipe up yourself with wet wipes set aside for these very times and wash hands.
      3) panties go in the laundry for pee, trash for poo. (Trashing panties could get expensive so our motivation to try harder was switching to plain, basic underwear which costs less. She has to go on the toilet if she wants pretty panties.)
      3)Put on a new pair of underwear and bottoms with little to no help (It builds her confidence and independence.)

      She owns a majority of pretty panties now, as she rarely has a poo accident. As for pee, she tries and is usually successful. When starting out this routine there were many heartbreaking meltdowns but now she’s started speaking more as she’s increased her confidence in her own abilities. Of course, that’s not all due to learning how to use the bathroom but it is due to her gaining independence and approval.

      I hope something in my rant helps you and your child. My heart went out to you upon reading your message. You are not alone in these struggles.
      Prayers and Hugs sent your way!

    3. I want to thank you for this article. I am a mom with a newly diagnosed autistic girl. For years I would do “special” things that others deemed as “spoiling”, but I also knew that something was special about my girl and I needed to intervene to make sure she succeeded. It is good to know that I am on the right track and that I really am not alone in this new world of special needs.

    4. This was so close to how my situation is that I could have written it if I could write. Wow! When my son was diagnosed he was three and my wife had just come out of the hospital from brain surgery for a biopsy of her newly diagnosed brain tumor. My mother was on the six floor of the same hospital dying of lung cancer. After the diagnosis Monday’s turned into therapy ,Wednesdays playgroup ,Tuesdays and Thursdays speech and Friday was OT in between frequent visits to The neurologist radiologist and MRIs. In July 2010 my wife passed my son was seven. My mother passed March 2011 and my mother-in-law passed of a heart aneurysm May 2011 so I was on my own. An amazing life experience began. I have second-guessed myself about how I raise my son with being on the spectrum and dealing with such loss and grieving in anger. The school system was a disaster I can write a book, my son is homeschooled now and it’s the best thing I ever did I’m so proud of him for what he has gone through how far is come. I appreciate your experience and I think a ABA is the worst thing you can do for your child on the spectrum. Thank you

      1. Wow, you have been through so much. I’m very sorry to hear of all of your loss. I can tell you have a story to tell. I would love to read it. Your son is very blessed to have a father with the attitude and commitment you have.

  2. Oh my! I am also “that Mom”. My son has cousins around the same age and he was always measured by their milestones. My son was behind because I “babied” him. When he was diagnosed with autism and epilepsy the comments seemed to slow down. We still get judged, but after 14 years of autism.. We have learned to smile and walk away. God created my son the way he is for a reason. Even though at times I wish I could make things easier, I wouldn’t change his heart or the sweet man he is growing into. I am very proud of him.

  3. Congrats on having carefully selected a therapist who agrees with your approach — you might just as easily have hired someone who told you that you are spoiling him.

    It’s so very interesting that you bend over backwards to accommodate your extra-special little autistic dumpling — and complain vehemently when the rest of the world, or even just family and friends aren’t willing to do the same. You complain your kid doesn’t get birthday party invites, that your sister won’t do (whatever time-consuming thing you demand be done to appease the dumpling, despite the fact that you cancelled at the last minute the last 5x).

    You’ve also conditioned your son to expect that the rules don’t apply to him – he doesn’t have to eat dinner like everybody else, bc mommy will bake him his own special pumpkin pie! He cannot possibly be required to sit at the dinner table! Dress codes don’t apply to him because he’s so darn special!!

    I’m also willing to bet that you continue to be heartbroken that your dumpling, whom you adore, has no friends, antagonists his classmates, is loathed by many of his teachers, that is discriminated against when he tries to find get a job wearing oh-so-stylish crocs?

    You’ll blame society.

    It may well be partly society’s fault — but mommy will have helped him along! You’ll be in terrific company with super-spoiling mommies like Nancy Lanza!

    1. Wow.
      I am not sure how to respond to this except with as much truth and politeness as possible.
      We selected my son’s therapist because she is known to be the most experienced one in our area. We needed to be on a waiting list for a year in order to get in to see her. It is because she is so widely known and respected that I was most afraid of her response.
      Although I have never complained about my son not being invited to a party, I do from time to time allow him a break from the dinner table and will always allow him to choose his own footwear. If I had to guess, he may be motivated to wear a different style of shoes if he chooses a job that requires it. Or he may be better suited to a field that allows him more flexibility in dress. My heart in writing about these things, is not to blame society for not understanding them. It is simply to ask that we not judge so quickly.
      Although comparing me to the Sandy Hook shooters momma (may she rest in peace), is just plain mean, you are entitled to your point of view… no matter how much I might disagree with it’s content. Please keep in mind that you are still, even with me opening up our lives as much as is possible, you are still only seeing a small part of what makes me a mother, and my son an individual.

      1. You handle this with such grace and such class. Sometimes the Carlees of the world, are Coming from a place of pain or judgement all their own. So blessings and special prayers for her to find peace. I walk this road of special needs and understand that all accommodations are made within reason… lol … have a wonderful day my friend and thanku for the encouragement.

    2. Ummmm. Wow. Like Nancy Lanza. Really?!?!? You went there based on what you read above. Seriously, that statement alone speaks volumes as to how much merit (zero) should be given to your opinions. You win the internets today in the “Boy, that escalated quickly” category and the ” I have no idea what your life is like but I can definitively speak about the quality your parenting and predict the future for your son” category. Well done, Carlee!

      Perhaps my post is in bad taste since I cannot find an ounce of graciousness in me now. Well, maybe a gram. I did refrain from name calling. I admire your graciousness, Shawna. Feel free to delete this if you see fit. I just can’t with this kind of maliciousness today.

      1. I wouldn’t dream of deleting your comment, Leigh Ann. Thank you for saying what I know many of us are thinking.

    3. I have zero gracious things to say to you Carlee other than to say I clearly know nothing about your life and therefore have no interest in judging you. I wish you peace because my gut tells me that you need some in your life.

      Shawna, I have commented before on who well I think you are handling the challenges and I acknowledge that I agree because I am walking a similar path. I have spent many years now “accommodating” my son. At this very moment he is in the other room playing with two “neurotypical boys” with no accommodation from me because he no longer needs it. Just like us adults …when they know better, they do better and our boys are simply on a different schedule.

      Just had to tell the boys that if they didn’t have anything nice to say, they didn’t need to say anything. Hmmmmmmmmm.

      1. I can share with you all that I am a step parent of a 13 year old who has been over accommodated. I fully agree there are situations which need accommodation however I get to experience a different view then some of the other parents commenting. When I came into the picture 4 years ago my step son had zero expectations of him and zero consequences for his actions. Being an only child of a divorced couple meant no one stepped up to discipline. So imagine how difficult it has been to blend our families with 3 other children (2 of which are mine and 1 who is ours). I end up being the evil step mom. I have realistic rules and discipline and get the same physical lashing out other moms of autism children get.
        It has been a long,difficult,stressful 4 years but I am proud to report he now shares, eats meat, dresses himself, uses more than one word at a time, sits at the table for meals, uses utensils…just to mention a few accomplishments.
        What I’m trying to say is there is a point of being over accommodated too and that in the long term only hinders the child

        1. It sounds like you are doing all the right things for your step child, as there is such progress in your daily life. There is no one right answer, for any child or for any family – that is true with or without autism. It is up to us to figure out what our children need to grow and be functional in the world and it sounds like you are doing just that.

    4. Wow, Carlee! I was taught if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

      I’m happy that your child ‘fits the mold!’ But some of us have children that learn differently, perceive differently and interact differently in this world. Helping them learn to navigate & respond properly is not spoiling at all! Our children will be well adjusted and able to be adults who aren’t entitled like, unfortunately, many are today. They will have learned to not judge others for their differences but to embrace them and learn from them & most importantly love them!!

    5. Until you’ve walked in someone else’s shoes…..

      I’m a mom of a teenager with an extensive Crocs collection, who slowly has learned to enjoy a larger selection of food, and struggles to make through 5 minutes, much less a whole day, of clothing that just doesn’t feel right to him. Being a pretty strict disciplinarian, for the first 9 years of my child’s life, we struggled, and, well, I can see now I was to blame. I had my ideas of what were the generic right ways to parent every generic child….and it took God and daily meltdowns (by both my son and me!) to make me open my eyes and see that every individual is unique, and every parent has to parent in a unique way. I have an extremely happy, popular, well-adjusted teenager now, BECAUSE I opened my eyes and realized that I had to change MY approach. If I hadn’t, I’m pretty sure he would not be outside right now playing football with friends (in his Crocs and shorts :)), but rather in his room slamming things around.

      I’ve had people that I have to deal with regularly talk behind my back and even to my face about how I may handle certain things with my son because I don’t discuss any of my son’s issues unless necessary because I want him to learn the skill of how to deal in the world of judgmental people. He often does a better job than me, and is actually very open about his issues any time he feels he needs to explain something. Why? Because he has learned that it is OK to be who he is, accommodations and all.

      Am I the perfect parent? Heck no, far from it. Do I realize that? Yep, and it makes all the difference.

      1. Crocs and crocs for days around here (and I LOVE them). Even my husband wears them now as part of solidarity with our son and because they are comfortable. 🙂
        Thank you for encouraging and sharing.

    6. My daughter does not have autism, but has many other special needs. I can relate to being blamed by others for my child’s challenges. You, Carlee, are the type of person that I pray every day my daughter and I don’t encounter.

    7. It’s obvious that you love rules and structure as long as you are the one implementing them. Do you wear clothes that are uncomfortable to you? Do you visit restaurants where the atmosphere is bothersome, loud or uncomfortable? Or even too quiet, or “boring?” IM sure you frequent places that YOU enjoy for whatever reason. Do you prepare food in your home that you absolutely despise or order it off of a menu although you dislike it? I doubt it. Why is it so important that you force those things on a child? I think you have control issues. I wear flip flops almost every day because they are comfortable, we eat at the table some days and some days in front of the TV—because we want to!
      My husband is a successful attorney who wears shorts and sneakers to work every day, unless on the rare occasion that he has federal court. I taught elementary school for 8 years with sneakers on, because I couldn’t stand in front of my class in heels for 5-7 hours. If you want to treat your children as if they are your puppets to be manipulated and controlled until they become weak subservient adults go right ahead. I suppose you think it’s appropriate to beat your child as well, when they don’t agree with your pointless demands. The things you mentioned DO NOT MATTER. Children need to learn to be kind, accepting of others, respectful, empathetic, and polite. Their shoes, where they eat their dinner, or what they have for dinner are not important, as long as they are learning to treat others with respect.
      As for your sick comparison to Nancy Lanza, she promoted violence to her son by providing access to an arsenal of weapons, and trips to a shooting range. Now THAT’S what someone should be worried about, not that (or IF) he wore his crocs (or whatever his choice of clothing was) instead of “proper footwear.”

      1. You wrote exactly what I would also say.My son is not neurotypical and I wouldnt force him to be something hes not for the sake of others expectations. Children with autism who dont sit at a table isnt because they dont want…its because they struggle to…too much noise…clattering cutlery and plates..lights, smells..Sconversation SENSORY OVERLOAD! Its part of their condition and not obstinance or being spoilt or pandered to.You do it out of respect for your child because sitting at a noisy table is sensorially overwhelming..ask any adult with Autism and theyll tell you.Why would you want to force that onto a child who has Sensory problems? The mother who thinks we pander to our children what Id like to say to you is you bully yours into doing what you as a neurotypical think he should be doing and not whats right for a child on the spectrum.What that equates to me as is a mother who thinks she owns her child and has no respect for who he is individually and no understanding of his disability.Celebrate your childs differences rather than trying to change them into neurotypicals …what that tells your child is they arent good enough who they are.Sad

    8. Wow, that is really where you went after reading this? The author was both worried about being judged, AND concerned that maybe she was spoiling her child in trying to find accommodations for his needs.
      In my experience, the parents who are asking themselves the tough questions in how they parent their children, special needs or not, are the ones who are NOT spoiling their kids and asking the world to accommodate their children. The parents who think they have it all figured out, though, tend to point fingers about how everybody else is doing it wrong and don’t ask themselves if maybe they are over-accommodating their children’s needs.
      I am not sure why you reacted so strongly to this article. Maybe you could stop and think about why this article aroused such a huge angry response in you, instead of dumping on a mom who, like all of us, is doing the best she can.

  4. You are all fabulous moms. You are doing a wonderful job.
    Worrying about whether you are doing things right means that you are.
    Because you are not rigid and convinced that there is only one way.
    Because you are not trying to force your children in boxes of “appropriate” category. Because being a mama is hard enough without using time and energy judging how everyone else is doing it.
    Because your children are beautiful, wonderful, individual, unique mini-humans and despite what many think, the point is NOT to raise perfect children in the perfect way. It is to create healthy, happy adults who can function in the world and do good.
    Read every hateful response with a degree of understanding and sadness – how awful it must be to be trapped in that dark mind. Keep focusing on the light, ladies. You’re doing the best you can (which is all anyone can do!)

  5. For the record, all my kiddos love Shawna’s son and have always invited him to our parties:-). My son was talking about how much he missed him since we moved.

    1. You made me smile with this one, Leah! He misses your children too and would LOVE to come to any party you have.
      Thank you for your loving, support, and encouragement.
      Love you!
      Shawna

  6. Thank you! I needed to hear this today. It’s only 8:30 am and my husband and I are fighting about “spoiling” or not.

    1. You are most welcome, Susan. Been there, way too many times in our marriage. Praying for soft hearts and open communication for you both today.
      Love,
      Shawna

  7. There is indeed, a difference between accommodating and spoiling.

    What isn’t spoiling is allowing your autistic son to have long hair because it’s a comfort to him and a short haircut requires physical restraint. What isn’t spoiling is allowing him to wear whatever he wants, so long as it’s safe. (It can get to -30 here.) What isn’t spoiling is learning to read his queues and comforting him when he’s out of control, rather than punishing.

    For me, letting go of all of that was beyond liberating, and ultimately, it wound up in him maturing quite a bit. Now that he trusts that we won’t chop off his hair, he sits patiently during haircuts. Now that clothes aren’t a huge deal, he doesn’t argue when I do insist he change. Prioritizing and accommodating little changes that benefit everyone isn’t lazy parenting. I’m finding that the additional freedoms have resulted in both of my children learning to self-regulate.

    Let’s face it- I cared about his hair because I cared what people thought. I cared about his attire because I cared what people thought. I made a huge spectacle of punishing him because I cared what people thought. That’s never the right reason to do anything.

    Of course if you visit my blog you’ll probably call me a hypocrite because my last post was about being a mean mom. I recently had to take a step back and draw a line in the sand after my accommodations morphed into my children treating me as if I was valueless. I feel tremendous guilt over my inadequacies as a parent, and that often translates to me breaking my back so neither of my kids ever have to experience a tiny bit of discomfort. THAT is spoiling.

    Making your kid’s life slightly easier isn’t overindulgence. Special needs children already have more on their plates than they can deal with. We don’t need to destroy weeks of their lives over trivial matters.

    1. Amy – I recently had to take a step back and draw a line in the sand after my accommodations morphed into my children treating me as if I was valueless.

      I feel this way too. I have 4 boys and sometimes things just pile on until I just call everyone front and centre and draw that line in the sand. Thankfully they are good kids and it is only because it seems easier to just let things slide that they do it. When reminded they bring their standards back up again. I have a mixture of kids, the eldest more Aspie than anyone else, but each has their own quirks. I would love to read your blog if you would permit me. If not, know that I still wish the best for you.

  8. pls dont let urself feel like this. it is very hard but there is no right or wrong. you have done what u think ur child needs. therspists are there to help no mske it worse. dint worry 🙂

  9. This made me cry. We all need to hear this reassurance. I am sad that you have born that burden of “did I do it wrong?” for so long.
    You are doing great! Thank you for sharing what so many moms feel. ❤️

  10. My oldest some is not on the spectrum, but he has sensory processing disorder, which requires a fair amount of accommodation. I long ago adopted the explanation for people that I am very adept at picking my battles, if it doesn’t involve is safety or define his character, I don’t fight the battle. So if he wants to wear shorts everyday, okay….doesn’t define his character or but him in harms way. If he gets cold he’ll either put on pants or deal with being cold. If he wants to wear his socks inside out because the seams on the toes bug him…okay. If he wants to run in traffic, nope. If he wants to never do math, nope. If he wants to do math laying upside down on the couch, okay. If he doesn’t want to brush his hair, okay. If he’s mean or unkind to others, nope.

  11. Tearing up! I can picture every face that has insinuated or outright told me that I was an enabler. I have also run into one lady, that encourages my 25y.o. son to enjoy his favorite color… Pink. She buys him hot pink shoelaces & hoodies. Kaleb loves her dearly. This is the first article I have EVER read that provides encouragement to us moms. I’ve always told myself & others that I choose my battles carefully & this one is not worth it. As I get older, I’m battling less and less an encouraging him more & more just to be who he is. Thank you.

  12. Wow, I have asked this of my own Special needs daughter 1000 times. What an encouraging post. My question is how does this play into life when you have other kids bc it can easily come off as favoritism and even to my spouse. It’s hard to get across that her need ( developmental delay, ocd, some autistic tendencies, visual impaiment…) for discipline and structure are far different from average kids. I question myself constantly since it’s a blended family. And he points it out…. I truly think we are all just doing our best but sometimes I wish people understood that I AM GUESSING WHAT’S BEST TOO!!!

  13. I ask myself this all. the. time. Although, in my head it’s usually, “Okay, is this a reward or a reinforcer?” My son as autism, and for me too, there is continuous balance for me making decisions about whether I’m accommodating him or spoiling him. He also loves his crocs. For a while, he was obsessed. So, when the weather started to get cold, I just slapped some socks on his feet and put his crocs on. He wore socks and crocks to his preschool. Totally dorky, but whatever…it was not at the top of my list of behaviors to work on. I’ve learned to make certain things a priority, and let go of some of the other things. It’s makes life much easier on all of us!

  14. Thank you for writing this! My daughter is nearly 18 and just last month I finally had an educator tell me that there are some things that she simply can’t control! All of her life I have been wondering if I have done too much accommodating and not enough disciplining. But she is the 7th child and NOTHING that worked with the first 6 worked with her. The school staff were as much in the dark as I, and we often found that accommodations weren’t so helpful, but made her manipulative. She’s very good at manipulating situations, but it is her way of surviving in a world that she doesn’t comprehend typically. She was in residential placement for a year and a half, which, although much needed for our family, was an education for her. She learned far more about manipulating, attention-getting, and harmful behaviors than she ever exhibited at home. Home now for the last 4 months, her inappropriate behaviors at school are reduced, her grades are improved. She uses the therapy labels she has received to gain attention. She now has “anxiety” and “anger issues”, and while in placement learned all about self harming behaviors. Somehow, she manages to not exhibit any of this while at home! I’ve been parenting for nearly 33 years, and at 57 I’m growing weary! Only by the grace of God have I been able to keep on advocating for this kid. I wish I had known years ago what I now know , but I have only been able to say “I did the best I could with what I had.” To this day, I can rely only on one thing: God knows. He made her, He knows her, and He knows her future. My job is to continue to advocate for her, and to love her.

  15. Hi all just want to leave a comment too. Yes accommodation … But where is that line between to spoil and to accommodate? I have son nearly 14 years of age he has ADHD, ODD, Social and communication difficulties, he was not diagnosed with autism but on the border. He behaves like a spoiled child now and I was told that it is because I gave in a lot. I am thinking now did I spoil him through accommodation? I would let him wear what he would want, I would cook a different dishes or have something to prepare quick in case he would not want what I made for whole family and so on. Yes I tried avoid arguments, fights and tantrums but now I am in worse situation… I think there should be a limit of accommodation and you should be know when to stop.

  16. My son does not have autism. He does have severe OCD and Tourette’s. This article made me cry. I can so relate.

  17. Hi Shawna,

    This difference between spoiling and accommodating is fine line, but I really believe you walk it well and on the right side!

    I’ve been thinking about this post for a long time now. I reckon that when your child knows just which buttons to push so they get the ice-cream and then they get the ice-cream, that is spoiling them. If they have sensory issues and the only thing keeping them (or you) in one piece that day is ice-cream, then ice-cream it is! Giving our kids (or ourselves) the space to re-charge in safety after a stressful situation isn’t spoiling, it’s accommodating.

    We’ve had to figure out how to raise our own kids in a way that maybe doesn’t match 99% of the others. When raising kids who aren’t wired up like 99% of the population, we need to play the long game. Why? Because. We. Are. Different. Not wrong, not broken. Just different.

    The key thing is; do we give our children special treatment because they are adept at pushing our buttons and manipulating us into getting what they want; or as loving parents can we see that they just can’t survive the day without a little extra grace.

    If you want to know what kind of tree (child) you have grown, test the fruit. Is it hard and bitter, or sweet and pleasant. Leah writes that her kids really miss Sourdough. I am guess that is because the fruit is good and the parenting is good.

    1. Thank you so much for your words, Alex. I think you have such a solid perspective on this and communicate it with ease.
      I am encouraged (and I suspect other parents reading your comment will also be) by your “test the fruit” analogy.
      Again, your experience and perspective bless us. Thank you for your support!
      Shawna

  18. Thank you for posting this. Today has been a long and difficult day and I sat here reading in tears. It helps to know I’m not the only one dealing with this.

    You could have been writing about my son. Even down to Minecraft!

  19. I really needed this right now! My son’s on the spectrum and recently I asked the facility where he plays basketball to avoid using the buzzer during practice because my son would freeze, refuse to listen and yell (did so once). Some family questioned if this was spoiling him since he “should”get accustomed to the buzzer but I disagree. He loves basketball and if the buzzer is paralyzing him to the point he can’t learn, then I’m gonna advocate for him. Thank you for sharing for 9ur peace of mind!

  20. Wow. This is what we face every day. The s hook seems to think he has a bad attitude and is spoiled…we get very defensive at the attitude. Our child has ADHD and is on the autism spectrum. Every day is hard enough without feeling like we have caused some of his behaviors. Thank you for the affirmation.

  21. Thank you for sharing! I am currently working with a child on the spectrum. I am always struggling with exactly what rules and challenges I should set in order for this child to succeed in life. I also struggle with whether my expectations are too high. The child loves to be held and cuddled, especially in high anxiety situations such as doctor’s appointments. People have told us that we shouldn’t hold the child as much and are “caudling” him/her. In my opionion, if that’s what the child needs to feel safe and it helps prevent meltdowns, why does that need to be changed? On that same note, the child is very loving, and I would hate for the child to feel like we are pushing away, and change how he/she sees people. There are some things We have decided to let go of because we don’t agree with the advice and believe it’s not worth the constant meltdowns to change. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. It’s always so hard to figure out the best plan of action towards unwanted behaviors, and whether it’s a sensory issue or a more typical behavior. I agree that people shouldn’t be so quick to judge and don’t always know the story of the struggles the child faces in everyday life. So I ask that people be patient and hear the story before you jump to the conclusion the child is “spoiled”.

    1. Very, very well said. The world would be so much easier for my son to manage, and for all of us I think, if we tried just giving each other the benefit of the doubt more often!

  22. So to give you a perspective from the other end of your “spoiled” child’s life: I’m a high-functioning (most days) autistic adult woman. I’m almost 40. When I was a child, aspergers wasn’t even a thing yet. My mom just knew I was different than her other 3 children and she didn’t know what to do. (I was/am extremely stubborn about things …). She asked her mom. And Grandma, knowing nothing about autism, simply said “just love her.” So my mom let me run loose outside from dawn till dusk in the summer barefoot. She only made me wear shoes to school and church and stores. Despite our money problems, she helped me with my obsessions of books and My Little Ponies (the first time they existed!). And my parents let me stay with them until I was finally ready to move out at 31. I think a lot of people (I know my sisters) thought my parents were spoiling me. But I’m an independent adult now, able to live alone, cook my own food, keep a steady job, and take care of cats on top of that. I don’t think I’d be independent if my parents had been less “accommodating” of my behaviors as a child.

    Yes, do accommodate those sensory issues and social communication needs. It helps us become able to take care of ourselves–most of us, I think, are so overwhelmed as children we don’t know what we need to handle the sensory and social issues. When you accommodate us as children, you teach us the ways we can use as adults to deal with all of it.

    1. Mary – Thank you so much for this!!!! I am going to share your words with every single mom I can find. I really appreciate your taking the time to comment and allow us to see things from your perspective.

  23. Thank you so much for this. I struggle with this often as so many have so much to say. Most days I can shrug it off. They don’t know my life or my son. I tell myself this over and over. Usually it is enough. Other days I wonder if I’m doing more harm than good. I’m so grateful to read that I’m not alone. The support is so reassuring. I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing most of the time. My son is progressing and thriving though so I remind myself I’m doing something right. Keep on keeping on ladies!

  24. Thank you for sharing this! It speaks to my heart though my son is 22 years old now. Though he was never “bad” enough to be diagnosed with needing services, I know in my heart he definitely has some sensory issues. Being our first child, it was hard to know how to handle things, and it caused issues in our marriage and a strain on the father/son relationship. But, this brings me assurance that how I dealt with him was what he needed….this article helps support my thoughts with that. Blessings.

  25. My niece is autistic and she is obsessed with buying t- shirts and magazines and eating constantly. Should they let her keep this up or should she be told no. She is 22 years old and has really had no up bringing, they just let her do whatever she wants to.

    1. Sounds like a rut… almost same as my 26y.o. Being a parent of a child that never (or extremely slowly) matures is difficult. It is natural for a child to grow independent and move out at around 18, so as a parent, you have to cope with the ‘life-time’ reality the best you can & choose battles carefully, so be patient with the parents. However, what clicked with my son (so far) is finding activity that works for both parent and adult child. I think the tee-shirts, magazines & food are simply activities that provide some kind of positive endorphins like any other addiction. Finding something new to engage in on a regular basis & you never know where it will take them. We found a simple craft and have done one craft show, planning on more… Finding it makes a difference in obsessing over the old stuff.

    2. An interesting phrase “Should they let her keep this up or should she be told no”. Let me unpick a bit:

      * Should (implies an awful lot of moral judgements. What grounds do you have for them?). There are some valid reasons for concern, eg, spending money she doesn’t have, the way that magazines generally make women unhappy by selling a glossy, unachievable lifestyle, and that getting fat while browsing magazines is a common but ironic situation.

      * they (who is they? Her parents? At 22 it’s arguable that their right to discipline is over!)

      * let her (what do you propose “they” do?)

      * no – what happens after the “no”? Does the glossy mag somehow become a coveted item to be enjoyed in secret? What will be the impact on their relationship? On your niece’s future?

      I’m hearing an awful lot of judgement of both your niece and her parents. If you want to remain friends with them, and have the opportunity to bless and support them, what would be your best way to proceed? As someone who is at one step removed from the relationship, you no doubt see things in a very different light from them; but listening is likely to be critical for encouraging and equipping your family to cope with their challenges.

  26. There are an awful lot of social rules which have no purpose IMO. For instance, what’s the point of insisting on leather lace up shoes? What’s the problem with the children getting down from the table and going to another room to play? Why does it matter if a boy has long hair?

    There might be a reason. For instance, leather shoes make sense when it’s raining, because they protect your feet from the dirty water. Likewise it’s nice to chat at dinner, and perhaps that’s a special time; or maybe the noise from the next room will disturb the adults talking. Or you might worry that a long haired boy will be teased. If those are the reasons, I say: deal with those reasons. If the noise disturbs adult conversation, the kids might wish to play outside.

    For instance, talk with your child about the relative merits of footwear for the activity and the weather. That’s not spoiling them, that’s enabling them to make appropriate choices with the full range of information. It’s not punitive. It’s not pointless. It’s assertive discipline which proactively trains your child to make good choices and empowers them to live in our complicated world.

    To get into a power struggle, to smack your child, to insist, to force, to head butt, to get locked into an argument…. all of these are ways to lose the things that are most valuable and precious in parent-child relationship. Why do we do them? Perhaps we’re so frightened of other people’s judgement that we’re spoiling our child that we’re prepared to make that sacrifice, but if there’s no reason for the social rule, then insisting on it (and at such a high cost!!!) seems like a very poor decision to me.

  27. I’m not sure I like the word “accommodation”. It implies deviance and a concession. A special case.

    One of the posters described the problem with the basketball buzzer. And that’s probably a great example. If someone has a problem with an aspect of how things are normally done – in this case, using a buzzer on the basketball court – they can make a request for things to be different. And the person who is responsible for the basketball court can decide how to respond to that request. It might be “sure, we don’t need to use the buzzer” or it might be “We use the buzzer, because… and we can’t change that because…” Armed with that information, the AS person can decide whether or not they wish to continue to play basketball on that court.

    It seems to me that this is assertive negotiation. It’s examining the context and making requests. It’s about being aware of what makes something inaccessible and then constructively offering suggestions to make it AS friendly. The problem is neither the AS person, nor the buzzer; it’s the combination of the two which is problematic. It’s not about plaintively requesting a concession, it’s about identifying a factor which is causing an issue, and thinking creatively about solutions which resolve a specific problem.

    1. Hi. I am not a mother of a special needs child, but I have been a teacher for 25 years. Most of that time has been spent working with visually impaired or blind students of different ages, and mainly in language arts.
      Right now I have two students, both 12-year-old boys diagnosed with autism, in the same class with 4 other students. Their characteristics are not similar. One of the boys has a mom who is supportive of disciplinary actions that teachers feel necessary. My problem is with the other student, and I would appreciate your feedback.
      I don’t claim to be an expert in autism, and I for sure don’t think there are experts in autism where I teach. This student is easily “stressed,” and from my point of view, neither the school nor the parents are interested in helping him to gain some maturity. We just keep catering to this.
      If I raise my voice, he accuses me of yelling. This is his perception, but it is not reality. If I address another student in a firm voice, I am being mean. He continually brings this up to other kids and teachers. It is December, but he dwells on a particular time from September. His parents were angry because I told him after a few minutes that I would not discuss that with him anymore since we were in class and needed to get back to the assignment. They said that since he is
      autistic, of course he perseverates, and I am to leave my class with my aide until he has finished what he has to say.
      I am to remember that he is autistic and sensitive, even if I’m not directly addressing him. I feel that I should be able to discipline my class when necessary without having to worry about being called on the carpet.
      This is probaby too long, but I am so frustrated, and MY stress level is sky-high. I have never been accused of being mean to my classes and have always felt that I had good rapport with students,and parents.
      Please help or tell me if you know of someone who can guide me. I dread this class now, and what I’ve described is just the tip of the iceberg.

      1. It sounds to me as if this child isn’t coping and needs extra support. This isn’t about you, it’s about him.

        As a teacher with 25 years experience, and a relatively clean record in terms of complaints (I assume), you’re in a strong position. You know how to teach effectively and you have the records to demonstrate that you have taught, and are teaching, in an appropriate manner.

        But this AS child is constantly stressed, he’s struggling with normal volumes of noise, he’s misinterpreting tones of voice, he’s requiring a lot of 1-1 support from the teacher and her aide; he’s being “catered” to, but it isn’t enough to help him to function. He’s perseverating and he’s become fixated on an imaginary grievance. In other words: he’s not coping.

        Some AS children manage to cope with part of the school day. Maybe they like the subject. Maybe the teacher is especially skilled at AS (but you’re especially skilled at other areas; nobody does everything well). Maybe it’s to do with time of day or when they’ve eaten or the smell of the classroom. There are a thousand things which can make it hard for an AS child in class, but generally they won’t apply in equal intensity to their whole timetable.

        The point is: the child is telling you what he needs. He’s stressed. He can’t cope. He needs help. Listen to him. And don’t take it personally! This isn’t your “fault”, and neither is it really his – Autism isn’t anyone’s fault, it just is… and nobody can help it.

  28. I have a 18 year old son who has sensory issues and at one time had a diagnosis of Aspergers. He was homeschooled all his life. Sometimes I think I did let him get away with things that I shouldn’t have but was too tired to deal with. I regret that now. But sometimes I did the right thing. We would often make deals… he tried my way until a timer went off, usually a short one, and sometimes we would change to the way he wanted, sometimes he wouldn’t even realise the timer had gone off and he was happily doing things my way. 🙂

    Recently we (hubby, me and son) had a discussion on whether he could accept a shift to work at McDonalds on New Year’s Eve. We are planning a family trip to see fireworks in the city. Hubby was concerned that he would be grumpy and bring the whole family down with his bad mood. I said that he was likely to be grumpy no matter how he tried to not be because he would be overwhelmed by the crowds of people and the noise. In the end hubby conceded and my son is doing his Maccas shift. And as a compromise we are going into the city early to have dinner at a nice restaurant before his shift starts so he can spend time with the family but he doesn’t have to deal with all the overwhelming stuff.

    As someone else said… pick your battles while understanding your child.

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