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Posted by Philip on 2 September 2010, 6:30 pm in , , , , ,

To shush or not to shush

This Blog was posted on Diversityworks Peer Support Network on behalf of Andrea Ford, CEO/Service Leader of Children’s Autism Foundation and mother of 3.

boy with finger on mouth going shush

In our family we have a No shushing rule. Many people wonder how we manage this and why I would set myself up in this situation. I would like to share the reasons for this in the interests of promoting the value of every child’s contribution, no matter how unique.

I have three sons. They are each unique individuals who I hope will grow up with self confidence, a positive self image, a sense of belonging and feel valued within their family, community and other roles. I intend to provide my parenting support with these goals in mind.

My eldest, Callum, is particularly unique. For those who need another way to identify with this post-Callum has autism, among many other talents. Some of his strengths are; he is often the first to get a joke, laughs the loudest, has an uncanny knack of knowing when applause is due in a crowd and will lead the way, is a great singer and again loves the opportunity to lead and sing with gusto. He loves to raise his hand to answer questions, he is very friendly and calls everyone ‘friend’, approaches new groups of children and adults with acceptance and friendliness where ever we go, always at the ready for joining in and making new friends. When it comes to music and singing Callum knows how to enjoy it to the full. He hums, conducts, taps, dances and sings along to music wherever and whenever the inspiration takes him, where there is music or not-he has the ability to recite music in his head, so is never without musical inspiration. Sometimes, others may not understand this is what he is doing, they don’t realise how much music is within Callum.

At times this has been difficult. At times I would find it a little embarrassing and would want to shield Callum from the disapproving or mocking stares, at times I used distraction techniques to try to prevent a form of expression that I could predict might emerge in certain situations. Callum and I work hard on teaching and learning strategies around the appropriate and acceptable behaviour in public places, or quiet places, at school, at other events. I want for him to be accepted and valued, and to experience fitting in and being wanted.

One day I realised that Callum would always have a unique understanding of what is important or appropriate. One day I realised that by shushing Callum I was modelling to others, including his brothers, that his behaviour was inappropriate, that his contribution wasn’t valued, that he didn’t fit in. I also realised that I did not apply the shushing rules to his brothers, to my friends, and that others did not get shushed as Callum did. So after a few discussions with my husband and kids we introduced the ‘No shushing’ rule in our family.

Instead of shushing we have to be more specific e.g “I can’t hear the TV when you are humming”, “I’m talking at the moment, can you wait a sec?”, but sometimes it is fine to share your enthusiasm, chip in and just share the moment in the way you want, take the opportunity to be inspired by a different perspective. We have found that Callum has some fabulous ideas and unique perspective. We have found we value Callum’s contribution and don’t want to miss out on his little gems or pearls of wisdom. Besides, by the time you say ‘shush’ its too late, so why not just smile at him and nod? He will feel affirmed rather than scorned-bonus.

At Scouts Callum loves to sing the closing song with such enthusiasm, louder than the other shy kids, with emphasis where other did not know you could use emphasis. Initially the other kids would shush Callum, but after thinking about it his Dad, Chris, who is a Scout leader decided to put a positive spin on this ‘behaviour’ and asked Callum to lead the singing, and joined in at Callum’s volume, allowing Callum the leading role. Now Callum is seen as a leader, not the inappropriate one.

All too often children, and adults, with an intellectual disability or autism, and frequently those with Aspergers, are pressed to conform, their ‘inappropriate’ behaviour is the subject of grave concerns, the top agenda item at meetings, their passions disapproved of rather than valued, and these people are shushed frequently. When being ‘shushed’ is a frequent experience, not surprisingly, some other forms of communication evolve (known as ‘behaviour’). I have seen this desperation to express themselves in many adults and children with ASD, it is the subject of much research and journal articles. Perhaps we could consider ‘feeling valued’ as an iep goal and behaviour plan strategy. Personally I will just go with the flow- I don’t think I need a strategy as a mother to see that my children want to share their ideas and be listened to. Sometimes we need to think very carefully about what the system and professionals have taught us about our kids, and reflect on our parenting and personal values.

It’s all behaviour, it could be shaped, but who wants to conform? Conformity is not a value we hold dearly in our family. Callum’s singing, humming, excitement, friendliness and exuberance are no longer viewed as ‘behaviour’ to be corrected, but as his right to express himself and teach all those privileged to know him how to be a little less inhibited.

This shift in our behaviour has really helped his brothers feel confident too. They are no longer embarrassed when Callum makes an unusual sound in school assembly or at scouts or church, we smile, knowing we get to enjoy something others don’t know how to enjoy, knowing we are not feeling obligated to conform, frown or scorn. It’s really quite liberating. Thanks Callum.


Andrea Ford

CEO/Service Leader

Children’s Autism Foundation


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