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“All Kids Do That” – Safety

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As parents of children with special needs, we have all heard the phrase, “all kids do that”, from well-meaning family members, friends, and parents of typical children.  Whether it’s said in reference to potty training, eating, social skills or behavioral challenges, it is frustrating to hear and minimizes our experience and concern over an issue that has garnered a great deal of time, attention, and stress.

There have been a number of posts from great bloggers about this issue recently.  One topic I haven’t seen covered, and is particularly relevant for us, is safety (maybe it was covered and I missed it, not sure).

We’re programmed, as parents, to keep our children safe.  But what happens when our child is programmed for danger??  Although my son is “high functioning”, the ADHD component of his disability slows his processing time, and decreases his impulse control.  That’s an extremely dangerous combination:  slower thought processing and an inability to control his impulses means that everyday things become dangerous issues.

Yesterday my husband picked up Connor from the after-school program.  As they were leaving, another child’s father was coming in.  This father happens to be a sheriff.  He arrived in full uniform, complete with holster and gun.  As Connor and hubs walked past the man, Connor turned and murmured “oh, a gun.”  He reached out toward the gun as my husband said “NO”, but his arm didn’t falter, until my husband reached out and grabbed him back.  He wasn’t ignoring my husband’s command, he simply was so intent on the object that he couldn’t stop himself, and would have touched it if his efforts weren’t thwarted.

We had multiple discussions about safety and personal space.  Connor knows a gun is dangerous, but asked, “will it fire if you just touch it?”  His brain is not wired to accept an explanation, he is determined to find things out for himself, no matter the consequences.

It has always been this way.  When he was little, it wasn’t enough to say “stay away from the street” or “stay on the sidewalk.”  I knew I had to always be within reaching and grabbing distance of him.  He is almost 7, and sometimes this is still an issue.

So last night, when my mom said, “he’s a boy, boys do those kinds of things”, I had to have a very clear conversation about the difference between Connor and “other boys.”

I told her the fire ant story.  When he was about 3 1/2, he became enthralled with an ant hill.  For two weeks, he would find a moment in the day to get near this particular ant hill.  Each day I told him frightening stories of the fire ants and how they will bite, and it stings quite a bit.  Each day he headed right back to the ant hill.  Finally I got a pitcher of water ready, came out and stood next to him, and said “fine, go ahead and poke the ant hill.”  He did, and immediately jumped back when he saw the thousands of fire ants bubble to the surface.  It was summer, so he was wearing sandals, and one ant managed to make its way onto his foot and bite him.  He began howling and I poured the water over his foot, and then took him in to put Neosporin on it.

“Do you want to poke the ant hill again?”, I asked.

“Nooooo, I hate those stupid ants!”

Learning the hard way is fine for fire ants, but isn’t an option when it comes to street traffic, strange dogs, or guns.

All kids don’t do that.  My kid does.  To say that “all kids do that” minimizes the fear I live with each day, that my son’s impulses will override what he’s been taught, and have disastrous consequences.

There’s a police station visit in my very near future.  It’s not enough to say “no”, or to have a conversation.  We will have to go to great lengths to drive this point home, and enlist the help of others that can help illustrate the dangers of firearms.

So please, don’t tell me all kids do that.



About Flannery

Kid, husband, dogs, my mother, full-time job, maximum stress, minimal relaxation...sooner or later I had to vent. AND we moved from California to Texas. I could start a whole other blog about that.

16 responses »

  1. Once again I am in awe of your mothering genius. You actually let him kick the anthill. I would have just locked my son in the house so he couldn’t get to it. Your way is much better.

    Two summers ago when we had just arrived at our vacation destination, my son was so excited – and more impulsive than usual – he ran in front of a car. Squealing brakes and everything. He was trying to get back to me and almost became a road pizza. So, yes, I DO give my son his ADHD meds in the summer. His impulsivity doesn’t stop being a concern at the end of June.

    Good luck finding someone in Texas who considers firearms a danger and not a birthright.

    • Ohmygosh, I don’t think it’s genius at all, but pure desperation. After pulling him away from the ant hill for weeks on end, I was out of ideas. Plus, I figured a little ant bite wouldn’t kill him, and might teach a lesson.

      I know your fear of traffic, believe me. I just about strapped the kid to me when we left the house for fear of him running in front of a car.

      Yeah, I’m a little worried about the Texas/gun culture. But I plan to explain to them beforehand that this is a child with Asperger’s/ADHD, and the last thing we want is to make it a “no big deal” situation.

      Maybe it would be easier to move.

  2. Excellent post. Especially in lieu of the missing boy with autism from the DC area. Just one more reminder that we must be extra vigilant, super creative and, yes, the crazy hover parents that children with autism require (IMHO).

    I am s sick of the “well, all kids do that” epidemic, that I mainly just at about this kind of stuff with other spec needs parents. Otherwise, the likelihood of me going postal on someone is just too high to risk it. Even my mom. Maybe especially my mom. And dad. Argh.

    • Thanks lady. Yes, I hate to hear about missing kids, especially when they have special needs. Makes me even more paranoid than usual. It could happen so easily.

      And yeah, we are helicopter parents. We have no choice.

      As for mom, well…she lives with us now, so I had to get her on board.

  3. You know Flannery, no surprise that I relate this this. There’s a fence surrounding the school, and it’s almost 6 feet tall. Well, Jack last year was always climbing up one side and wanting to jump off. I was forever saying no. One day he wanted to jump off, and I mentally shrugged and let him. When he landed, it really hurt the bottom of his feet. He immediately crumpled and started crying, but then he learned. It sounds cold and hard, but sometimes they just don’t GET it until they figure it out themselves. Plus, I get weary of the huge fights that ensue whenever I say “no.”

    Oh yeah–I’m totally nervous when I’ve taken him for a nature walk down the escarpment, with a raging river at the bottom. He’s told me before that when he’s up on a very high spot overlooking water, he wants to jump down. This horrifies me.

  4. This is one that I completely relate to, sadly. Here’s a standard line at my house, “What happens if you stick your finger in the pencil sharpener?” My kid is 5 and he’s had a black eye twice from clumsy falling episodes in our house. He has no clue about looking around for traffic. He thinks everything is a toy. He wants to run through the glass around the second floor at the mall and touch a hot stove. And that’s just the small stuff. How about if our kids decided they wanted to take up skiing or motocross? Two events I’m quite sure Tootles wants to participate in! I fear a call from the school every ‘effing day that he’s injured himself on the playground with three supervisors out there! And, just for the icing on the cake? We have rattlesnakes in our neighborhood and my hubs has killed three on our property. That boy does not go outside alone – ever! Absolutely NO concept of danger.

    It is definitely NOT the same. I’ve aged 150 years in the five years my kid has been on this Earth. Gah! I want to scream when I hear someone say “all kids do that!”

  5. A great post, and I think you are right abou there needing to be more disscussion on things like this matter. There is way too much of the “all kids do that” I think people try to make you feel as if you are not alone, but it backfires 90% of the time. I get upset when friends say, “all kids do that. My son ran into traffic once,and he is normal.” Because that is not at all the same situation. I feel bad that you had to go through that scare one time…. really I am. But it is NOT the same as my countless times of my son darting away from us. Anyhow, again, wonderful post. Keep them coming! 🙂


  6. In my experience “pro gun” communities are very much “pro safety” communities. When we moved to a rural area we knew our children would come into contact with firearms and that simply teaching kids to “not touch” is not enough. We enrolled our kids in 4H shooting sports, starting with air rifle (pellet gun). Our children learned how to safely handle a firearm and more importantly they learned outstanding firearm safety. The NRA also offers outstanding firearm safety for kids and if you let them know you have a child with special needs, in my experience they take even extra care to help the child understand how to be safe and responsible around firearms. Good luck.

  7. This topic is very much front and center for us – especially was the weather gets warmer and we can play outside again. Little Miss just has *no clue.* If she sees an object of desire, she will run across the street without a moment’s hesitation. Her quick-as-lighting little hands have shot out onto the kitchen counter to snag something sharp more times than I care to admit. And her wild need for proprioceptive and vestibular input have convinced her on more than one occasion that jumping up the stairs is a good idea (she still has yet to master her PT goal of *walking* up the stairs).

    I like the idea of helping her to own her safety by demonstrating the consequences, but like you point out – there are some consequences that are better left undemonstrated. I’d love to know how your trip to the police station works out though – gun safety is one lesson I hope I don’t have to teach!

  8. Amen Flannery, Amen. And that right there is why I’m scared to death to walk in a parking lot with my son let alone any place else. There is absolutely no other thought or desire in his mind when he sees something he wants. Think, “Ohhhh, something shiny!!!” And off he goes—without any regard to his surroundings.

    I have found that explaining something does not work—I have to actually demonstrate the outcomes, much like your fire ants, for it to sink in. But how do you demonstrate getting run over by a truck because he sees a dandelion across the street??? You don’t. My daughter would never dream of running across the street for the dandelion. My son would be across the street in a flash. So yeah, I’m with you on this…..

  9. How very scary. I know I live in a different country, a country where you would never see anyone carry a gun, but I think I’d be horrified if a gun carrying parent came into our school!

    As regards the ‘every child does that’ thing…my boy is now 12 and very high functioning so I don’t have to tell people anymore but that statement is one of the many things that will stay with me. Used to drive me insane!! My response finally became… ‘yes I know so and so never eats…. and Johnny down the road doesn’t sleep… and your friends grandchild doesn’t speak and that other child has temper tantrums BUT…can you name ONE child, just one, that does ALL of those things…all of the time??’ That’s what makes it a syndrome! End of hassle!!

    Great post 🙂

    xx Jazzy

  10. So is it the slowed processing time that results in a (sometimes–on a good day) delayed “typical” reaction? McDiesel will run out into the road to face off with an Escalade (my go-to example), but he MIGHT–once the car is stopped and has not run him over–come back to the yard (before I reach him to drag him back). It’s like he’s hearing it–for the millionth time–a little too late. Also–what is the deal with the fire ants? McD has also gotten stung like crazy all over feet and legs, but will stubbornly harass them anew any chance he gets… He won’t stop poking their hill with a stick until he gets stung. I’ve resigned myself to that one (need the energy for the Escalades…)

  11. See the link below for one community’s response to this issue:

    perhaps it would work in your community too?

  12. accckkk safety. worrying about my kids running off—- worrying about my kids touching knives— worrying about my kids climbing out the window—- worrying about what they’re putting in their mouths (a 5 year old SHOULD know not to eat a crayon, right?)……… it’s so hard! My issue is parking lots. “Wilma” sits down and refuses to walk any farther. cars start honking—– I ask her gently and nicely to get up. Meanwhile “Fred” hits her, bites me and screams his head off. I’ve got one hand on her hand, one hand on his hand, a purse and a pile of PECS around my neck, and we’re NOT moving. Both my kids would totally do that. Oh hey, a gun! GRAB.

  13. Per usual I read this and think yes, this! So much this! I think I might start making this blog required reading for my family before they are allowed to talk with me. Seriously though I hear you. I feel the same way. I also get so tired of the “you are such a helicopter parent” remarks from family. They truly don’t get it.


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