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Dramatic? Or Passionate and Expressive?

March 2, 2022

A look at how you, as a parent, can identify your child’s red flags and develop coping strategies.

Dramatic? Or Passionate and Expressive?

I am sure we have all been a bit dramatic in our lives about something. A scratch on a new car. A rip in our favorite pair of pants. The dog once again tracked mud onto the newly cleaned carpets, or the deer got into the garden and ate all the newly planted strawberries. 

We overreact because we are disappointed, frustrated, and surprised by the event. We’ve all been to a store and witnessed a child laying on the floor screaming because he/she is unable to have the toy or candy bar he/she just has to have. Children show us a great production, an over-dramatic reaction to our “no”.

Then there is the child or teen with autism, known to have intense swings of emotions. He/she could be very happy, jumping up and down, squealing loudly, clapping his/her hands; or extremely upset with a very dramatic reaction because he/she is unable to watch a video they have watched more than 30 times. The child is deeply passionate about this video and he/she is highly expressive about their desire to see it!

Most of the time we are able to deal with the overly dramatic (happy) expression of passion— unless it’s in a quiet movie theater or library. With a little redirection, perhaps a break outside for a minute or two, the use of a squishy toy regulator, a heavy weighted blanket, or a sip of a favorite drink, this dramatic happiness can be contained.

It’s the over-dramatic expression that looks aggressive, anxious, frustrated, or confused that worries us—and tells us a simple redirection may not work this time. So, I advise parents to learn to work with the program When My Worries Get Too Big by Kari Dunn. It provides insightful advice to help your son or daughter develop some coping strategies for dealing with anxiety, confusion, fear, and frustration. Then there is also The Incredible Five-point Scale by Kari Dunn that can help.

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The first strategy helps to identify the problem and then provides a specific activity to be done when that problem arises. (When I lose my book, I can ask for help.  When I don’t understand, I can raise my hand. When it’s too noisy, I can ask to take a break. When I am worried, I can count to five and take three deep breaths.) Keep these strategies insight and go over them daily. You can even post them somewhere in the home or in a child’s binder at school where they can easily access it.

The Incredible Five-Point Scale has you work with your son or daughter to understand that there are different levels of worry and anxiety when dealing with a problem, so different levels of support might be needed. 

Levels of the Incredible Five-Point Scale

Level one 

  • I am happy; everything is going alright this morning. I can follow my schedule

Level two and three

  • I can’t find my socks; I ask mom for help and I find them. Or, I am ready to eat my cereal but the box is empty. I will have to make a different choice. This could be a level three, but again, I have cereal and we could buy some of the other (my initial choice) later. So, I do have another choice for now, and I just need to be a little patient

Level four

  • A level four problem has the child worried and very anxious; he/she is pacing as the bus is late for school. In this case, the scenario may play out in the following way: Mom has to ask me to take some deep breaths and go watch a favorite video while she calls transportation. She comes back and lets me know that the bus is on its way but will be late. I can watch my favorite video until it arrives

Level five

  • A level five is a red-hot problem and has the child ready to blow. There isn’t a quick fix. You are out for a drive in the car. You get a flat tire. You must call for help and your child’s routine is interrupted. This is when you remember that you packed the emergency level five kit. It’s in the trunk. It has a new video game for his/her iPad, a favorite snack, and some sensory toys. You also have him/her take deep breaths and let him/her know everything is going to be alright. Show him/her the spare tire and show a quick video on your phone of a toy truck coming to help

When you are able to identify your son or daughter’s red flags, and you are helping him/her to develop coping strategies, he/she can learn not to overreact and how to get through challenging times.

It is also good to teach your son or daughter that some passions and feelings are better expressed in private, at home, and not in public. Let him/her know that you will discuss the issue at home, and together you can find a solution. 

Pointing out to your son or daughter that his/her dramatic expression may scare a friend or make a teacher angry, could help him/her be more expressive in a more positive manner.

This article was featured in Issue 125 – Unwrappin ABA Therapy

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