I have been thinking about limits: the edges of ourselves… that place where we interface with the world. Our limits and where we set them are the control valves for our emotional, social, physical, cognitive, and sensory experience. These boundaries are the meeting place between ourselves, others, and the world around us, and they deserve our mindful attention.
I have been told I am patient with my child and with my students… that is because I use strategies to support them before I am at my limit. Let me explain…
As a parent I have often considered that with my own children it is important for me to set my limits, the place I draw the metaphorical line at a place different from, separate, and well before, my level of frustration. If the limits we convey to others are at the same place as the end of our level of tolerance, it follows then that when those limits are reached we will be at the end of our resources – or at our wit’s end.
I have shared this with other parents and I have conveyed this to educators as well – when I have had the opportunity to work with them on strategies for supporting and teaching positive behaviour either at home or in the classroom. Our limits for what we are willing or able to accept or tolerate need to be set at a level far before we meet our threshold for tolerance for frustration or losing it. If we want to positively support the behaviour of children – it follows, we need to be able to access our best skills in order to be effective.
So the other night I was conversing with the Fabulous Laura Nagle – and we ended up discussing limits. It went a little like this:
This got me thinking about my ideas on limits and our the need to set them well prior to our breaking point, from a slightly different angle. This is not just about effectively supporting children. More, it is about the needs of ourselves as adults, and there is a cognitive aspect to this that may seem pretty obvious on a certain level – and yet it may bear closer consideration for many of us. If we need to still have the skill in reserve to advocate for ourselves, others, or to better the situation… then we need to pay close attention to what we are telling ourselves and others about our limits.
I often find myself considering H with a forward-thinking eye, and planning for the skills I think he will need for a good quality of life as an adult. So many of the skills that I employ to navigate the social world have been learned intuitively and are stored and accessed rather effortlessly. This doesn’t mean that I am not sometimes awkward or uncomfortable, because I most definitely am, but I navigate these situations with a pretty natural ability to accurately read the social information I get from others.
H, and many others like him, navigate the social world using skills they have learned and built on a more intellectual level. His understanding of the social world is in many ways a cognitive skill – rather than an intuitive one. It follows then, that if he is upset or overwhelmed, then the skills and strategies that he has learned in order to make his way will be less accessible to him. If this is the case, and I believe that it is, then I need to be supporting him in understanding and advocating for his own limits.
I ended up making a visual model to support this idea:
Then over the next few days I talked with a wonderful and supportive colleague – who shared with me that he had envisioned a cliff when we were discussing the concepts. So… because I love his idea and I love creating visuals… I made another:
30 Days of Autism is a project designed to fight stigma, promote civil rights, and increase understanding and acceptance for those who process and experience the world differently.
© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism, (2012)