Last night on ‘The A Word’, Joe was upset about his carer having to leave and he reacted badly in his school classroom by having a tantrum and ‘flinging a few chairs about in the classroom’ and his parents were called into see the Headteacher. They then had a debate about how much Joe actually understood and felt but his Mum made a remark that I have often heard and said myself : Joe’s behaviour might be sweet now, but when he is older, what then? When he is not cute anymore and no-one can handle him when he is 16 and still flinging chairs to express himself, what then?
That is a very real reflection as our children grow up into adulthood; Their little quirks or coping stategies are not so tolerable. Joshua always bounced up and down as a young child, he was never still, and that was one of the things that made him stand out from his peers. I can remember in a special needs playgroups when Joshua was a toddler, we all sat around in a circle singing action songs, with Joshua bouncing continually. I had thought he was happy but the leader had called me aside at the end of the session, to tell me that his behaviour ‘was not right’ and it indicated to her that he had a problem. Given that he was in a special needs playgroup, that seemed to me , then and now, an odd thing to say, even though I am sure she had our best interests at heart.
But we frequently said, that he could get away with bouncing as a toddler and even at primary school, but we were fearful of having an adolescent, or even adult, son who jumped up and down in public places. Then it would not just be seen as exuberant behaviour, then it would be regarded as being anti-social and no longer ‘cute’ enthusiasm.
Fortunately for us, Joshua does not have behaviour problems and is not normally destructive – other than when he had a reaction to one anti epileptic drug that he was given and that was a frightening insight into the world that many parents face with a chid who is violent and aggressive. Fortunately it was so alien to Joshua’s placid character that we were able to identify the source of the violence and remove the drug quickly and the problem went away, but I am aware that not every parent is that fortunate.
But equally Joshua’s open affection to strangers, by grabbing them for a hug or for attention, might well have been sweet when he was a toddler, but now that he is a 5’10” teenager, it is more probematic. Most strangers recognise Joshua’s intention to be friendly, but not all and some look genuinely horrified as he approaches. Although I am concerned by ‘stranger danger’, I am not prepared to lose that affectionate side of his personality and to tell him off for that behaviour. I tend to make a joke of it and say ‘Put her down Joshua, not everybody wants a hug!’ as my standard response, but it is a challenge to know how that might develop as he becomes an adult.