Six Reasons Why Autistic Children Might Struggle With Losing

Last week I was at a school party with my daughter for Halloween. She’s not a fan of parties yet wants to be there too. It’s a huge internal struggle for her as she as she wants to be there like everyone else but realises she is different too.

The free dancing, general socialising, and snacks were hard enough but worse of all was when the games began.

My daughter loves games. She loves the rules and obeys them precisely. She likes that they are organised, structured and fair. The only problem is…she has to win!

They played one game which she lost right at the very start.

In front of her peers she could not hide her upset and I had to remove her from the room to save her embarrassment.

It’s now over a week later and she still can’t get the fact she lost out of her head. She can’t process it or make sense of it.

Of course all children can find it hard to lose but for autistic children it can be so much worse.

It’s not about just telling them to be a ‘good loser’, or using logic to explain that only one child can win out of everyone there. There are very valid reasons why autistic children can find losing hard and before we can help them we need to understand them better.

1. The Spiky Profile

Autism is a complex disorder and it usually comes with what is known as a spiky profile. This means that a child’s development is at different levels in different areas that what might be expected for their age. So, for example, while my daughter is on par with her peers in maths ability she is years behind in social skills. While her peers have mastered ‘good sportsmanship’ she isn’t there yet. It doesn’t make her any less it just means she needs extra patience and understanding. All children develop at different rates but somehow society expects all children to accept losing gracefully by the time they start school. For many autistic children this just isn’t realistic.

2. The Overgeneralisation

When my daughter loses in her mind it isn’t just a game, it’s everything. Her mental health deteriorates so quickly and it escalates from ‘I didn’t win that game’ to ‘I am useless at everything’ in minutes. Nothing will persuade her out of the mindset that she didn’t win so therefore she is terrible at everything, everyone hates her, and there is nothing she is good at at all. Many autistic children can be like this. They process the game as something of major significance and losing becomes the be all and end all. All rational thought leaves and they judge themselves by the sole fact they lost at one thing. While some may think this is ‘stupid’ or ‘childish’ it is a very real anxiety and needs patience and understanding.

3. The Humiliation

One thing my daughter can not abide is being the centre of attention in a negative way. She hates people staring at her or seeing her as different. Her social anxiety makes her believe that everyone thinks of her as a loser so the humiliation of publicly losing a game just reinforces that fact in her own mind. The shame of not being the best, the embarrassment of having to ‘sit out’ and the added cheers from others who continue to play only make this worse. Despite the fact she knows it is fair she will argue that ‘it’s not fair’ because in her mind fairness equates to only her winning. Which leads to the next point…

4. The Expectation

Losing well takes practice but how can you practice something that causes so much anxiety you can’t cope? It doesn’t matter how much you try to explain to my daughter that the reality is only one child will win and statistically that is very unlikely to be her, she will then argue that is ‘should be’ and ‘could be’ her so she plays with the attitude of ‘I am going to win because I want to’. While this is admirable and makes her play well and push through her social anxiety about joining in, it all falls apart very suddenly when she doesn’t win. It’s a catch 22 situation because if she accepted she was unlikely to win she would never agree to join in in the first place! I. Her mind she has already played out the game already. That’s the only way her anxiety will allow her to play but her imagination has her winning so when the reality is different the crash is big. Expectation vessel reality is always a hard one for everyone.

5. The Inability To See Things From Others Viewpoint

My daughter isn’t selfish. She is actually one of the most empathetic children there is but when it comes to games her anxiety becomes so high she goes into self preservation mode. In that mode she can’t look at someone else’s point of view so forcing her to congratulate the winner won’t work. She feels cheated and angry at the winner so how can she say ‘well done’ to them? Her own feelings and upset become so huge they are overpowering preventing her from having empathy for anyone else at that precise moment.

6. The Lack Of Control

One of the hardest things about any sort of game, wether it’s snakes and ladders or musical bumps, for an autistic child can be the absolute lack of control they have over any of it. The randomness of what you may thrown on a dice, or having an itchy nose when you should be frozen in musical statues is uncontrollable and that can bring huge anxiety to many children. They can’t predict and they are out of their comfort zone which can cause upset, frustration and challenging behaviour.

You would think with all that my daughter would hate games. In fact the irony is she loves them! Yet no matter how many different games we play she still finds it deeply distressing to lose.

The important thing is I recognise that and I understand and we continue to work on good sportsmanship often.

Like everything it’s about patience, understanding and compassion.

So the next time you see a child crying because they lost at pass the parcel or getting angry because they were ‘out’ at musical chairs spare a thought for the difficulties they are dealing with and remember we can all struggle to lose…especially when it comes to football!

Advertisements

Would you swap your hand?

image

Some years ago I was giving a friend a lift home in my car when she shared some words of wisdom, quite unplanned. She was going through some difficult times but reflected that if life was like a game of cards and we were able to fully see the cards everyone else had in their hands we would always choose to keep our own hand we had been dealt with.

There have been times I have felt unsure about that thought, feeling hard done by or feeling I have been given a raw deal in life and the idea of swapping with someone else, whose hand seems so much easier, appealed greatly. We all have times when the grass always looks greener on the other side. We look at the smile on others faces and assume the hand they have is easy and they are going to win. We read status after status on social media and assume everyone has a wonderful life because this is how they choose to paint it. Many have mastered their poker face. Years of playing the game has convinced them there is advantages to hiding their pain and smiling through difficult times. But what if you had the ability to see the full hand they had been dealt with? The chances are you would look at your own hand with a new perspective and appreciation.

There have been times I have wanted to lay my hand down and quit. As my children received diagnosis after diagnosis, my home got repossessed, appointments mounted up and nights were never-ending, quitting seemed so much easier than playing on. My ‘losing’ appearing so much worse by seeing others ‘winning’. But the fact is while you still have cards in your hand you have everything to play for. For a season I just needed to concentrate on the hands I had: the beautiful children I got to kiss each night, the roof above my head, the food on my table. A few special cards can mean so much more than a pile of insignificant ones. Used strategically and carefully any hand can be amazing for the right player.

There have been times my hand has seemed huge. I have felt blessed by friends around me, my marriage has seemed strong and my cupboards have overflowed with abundance . Many have looked at me with respect or jealousy thinking I have it altogether. They have wanted to swap hands with me thinking life must be easy for me. They have looked at things from the surface seeing only what looks like blessings. They see a new car in my drive, they see children’s toys in my garden and they see my children with expensive technology. It all looks fantastic. They think my life must be effortless. They perhaps don’t know about the times I looked on them the same way with those similar feelings. Because they are not able to see my full hand they may not know that the car is leased through a scheme for the disabled because of my child’s complex medical and developmental needs. They may not know that my son carries an iPad around with him as it is his only form of communication because he is totally non-verbal.They wonder how I can afford to stay at home instead of ‘working’ without realising my job as a carer may be unseen but it is extremely intense both day and night.

Other times it can all seem quite equal. The dealer deals the same amount of cards to everyone and the game is anyone’s call. But as each player sees the hand they have been given and does their best to turn it into a winning hand it is important to always look at your own hand as important, beautiful and worthy. Even the humble ‘2’ can become a winner to the right player. It is all about how it is played that counts.

Wether you are playing the hand of a single parent, raising children with disabilities, wrestling with health issues or struggling with huge responsibilities of caring or debt, always remember that if you had the ability to fully see the hand that others are carrying you would realise that, in fact, the hand you have is the very one you can handle. You have that hand for a reason.

I don’t know your hand in life. I don’t know your struggles or you talents and gifts. But I have faith in every one of you. I have faith you can take that hand you have and win the game. You can become a gifted player in life no matter what hand you have been dealt. Just keep playing.

Do you fancy swapping your hand? Just remember everyone is fighting battles we do not know. The other hands may not be all they seem. And if you had the ability to see everyone’s hands the chances are you would always take your own back. So keep your hand and use it to win. However long you get to play, play it well.
image