In the bible in the book of Proverbs it says “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. Stephen Covey the Leadership Guru also used “seek first to understand” as habit #5 in his leading book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”.
People with autism give us an opportunity to put this into practice because they came into this world being different in many ways. They think a little differently, experience things that are sensory (like sounds, smells, and tastes) and process information a little differently than we are used to.
When our daughter Gabbi was little, she would do things that didn’t seem quite “normal” to me. She rocked back and forth incessantly and seemed to get agitated very easily. She would throw a tantrum while we were out shopping or using a public restroom, so I would feel embarrassed that she was disturbing others and that it might be a bad reflection on my parenting skills. This caused me to feel badly not only due to Gabbi’s behavior, but also my reactions to her behavior. Instead of trying to understand what Gabbi was thinking or feeling, my objective was to get her to stop doing these things.
Fast forward several years ….after feeling bad for so long, I now want to find peace from the thoughts that have caused me to disconnect from who I truly am.
I believe we all come from one source…that which we call God. At the core of who we are, is a loving and compassionate being. When I shifted my focus toward wanting to understand vs. wanting to judge, it allowed me more and more understanding of why Gabbi reacted in the ways that she did. Slowly, I realized that this mindset not only helped me find what I was seeking…unconditional love and compassion for Gabbi… but also helped me to extend that to others as well.
With this new mindset, I was able to get more clarity on why Gabbi did some of the things that seemed so “different”. I realized that stemming (the movement of rocking back and forth) allowed Gabbi to focus better then if she just sat still. I also realized that many of the things that are typical to our environment such as the flushing of toilets in a public restroom or other kids screaming in a store are sounds that can be greatly magnified to a person with autism. Understanding these things now helped me to respond from a place of compassion vs. a place of anger and judgment.
Today, if you find yourself feeling angry at your child with autistic behaviors, or even the behaviors of family members or co-workers, try setting your mindset on understanding and compassion. Just the act of “seeking first to understand”, can help stop the habit of judging others and shift your focus to gaining an understanding as to why someone is doing something that might make you irate or angry. One thing I’ve learned is that my first reaction to a situation is usually not what’s really going on. Typically, I have to get out of my own perspective and try shifting my focus toward compassion for others before I can even access the wisdom that will provide clarity around their behavior.
Once you start committing to reacting with compassion, you can form new habits that will not only lead you to a more joyful and love-filled life, but will raise the energy of those around you and far beyond what you might imagine.
In Love and Joy,