Susan's Blog

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Parent, Heal Thyself

I wonder about some autism treatments, and the benefits they might have that no one talks about: the relief they give to the parent, which then translates to a more competent, confident, relaxed, and empathic parenting style.

We have been having our sharp ups and downs with Nat and his aggressive outbursts, for a while now. You could say that aggression is part of his profile, but I would be pissed at you if you did. Please do not label my boy. He can become very frenetic and aggressive if he is knocked off his center by various of life’s vicissitudes, but I would say that it is more accurate to call him a “highly-charged” individual with an affinity/obsession for things that fascinate him and/or bug him (same as his mother). You might think that I am being very P.C. here in how I ask you to speak of Nat, but that’s okay. Sometimes Political Correctness is necessary because it has a beneficial affect on how you think of someone. If you think of Nat as a Violent Autistic Person, you would be doing him — and yourself — such an injustice because that sounds scary. But if you think of Nat as A Guy Who is Very High Spirited and Strong-Tempered, you would have a more accurate perception. It’s just a bit of a mouthful, so how about just thinking of him as “Nat?”

So I was saying that autism treatments may actually be better treatments for the parents than the kids. I was given a token board to help strengthen Nat’s ability to follow directions. I looked at this bright yellow Velcrow-y thing on my lovely matte-finish black granite kitchen counter and thought, How am I going to fit this into my life? It does not even match my kitchen…

Nevertheless, I asked Nat to play a game with me, and came up with four other directions for him to follow, such as, 1) Get the game; 2) Play with me; 3) Take apart the game; 4) Put the game away; and 5) Answer the phone. I was told to do high-probability and low-probability directions with him. But Nat loves directions and rules, and so of course he did everything. He answered the phone by rattling off an entire conversation into the receiver: “Hi, how are you, fine, I played at school, I played basketball.” Or something like that. (Good thing it was Ned on the other end.)

I thought, How is this really going to help when things get rough? The theory being that we get Nat more accustomed to following our directions, so that even when he de-stabilizes, we can point him to an activity and help him channel some of that excessive energy, and then work with him on whatever it is that is making him mad.

And then something toppled out of the fridge onto his foot, and Nat hates when things fall out of things, and so he started biting his arm. I looked at New Yeller sitting on my counter and I felt calmer. I wordlessly put the stuff back into the fridge and repeated the directions to set the table. He ran into the livingroom, biting his arm. But I felt calm. Max said, “Uh, he’s biting his arm,” and I nodded, knowing I could not call attention to it or it would all get worse. I quietly explained that to Max. In a steady voice I reminded Nat about setting the table, and he came in and did it. A total de-escalation, and the whole thing lasted less than a minute.

Was it because I felt the calm that a new strategy gave me? And do other parents feel such relief when they find something that may help, that that is just as good medicine as anything you are actually trying out with your kid?


I guess this is sort of the equivalent of “reidrecting” one might do with a toddler (my current frame of reference as Nik is only 4). It does help both of us to know there is a certain pattern, a predictable, reliable attention-shifter. Sounds like “yeller” is a good thing…even if it doesn’t quite match the decor. LOL

On the “labeling”– I totally agree. Your description of Nat could fit Nik on many days. He’s generally a happy-go-lucky little guy but when he gets frustrated or hurts, he gets more aggressive. Our *former* neuro wanted to peg him as “angry” and medicate him instead of helping us find the triggers and solutions. (That’s why he is “former” neuro.)

— added by Niksmom on Wednesday, February 27, 2008 at 10:53 am

I think it sort of clicks when you use a new technique. It’s almost as if you had it in the back of your mind the whole time, I find. I think of Nat as a Scorpio. -Tina in MN

— added by Anonymous on Wednesday, February 27, 2008 at 4:22 pm

Any time I find a technique, use it, and have it work is a miracle. I feel such joy and satisfaction about it! The last technique I utilized was creating a visual to do list of five things I wanted the kids to do before bed. We start doing this half an hour before bedtime and they know that any time they have left over AFTER completing their to do list BEFORE bedtime may be spent on tv or video games. It has been a great way for me NOT to have to stand over my son with Asperger’s and his twin brother who I suspect has ADD to keep them focused, nagging and constantly taking away anything that attracts their attention. Now I just have to remind them of how much time is left and ask them which number step they are on. LOVE IT!

— added by Domestic CEO on Wednesday, February 27, 2008 at 10:55 pm

Wise post.

— added by r.b. on Thursday, February 28, 2008 at 6:28 am

That’s the basis of the TEACCH technique. TEACCH has been a lifesaver for us.

— added by ASDmomNC on Thursday, February 28, 2008 at 3:27 pm

I hate the labels too, but, these days, I shrug them off as my boy continues to defies his prognosis. It’s not easy work for both of us, but with your insights on raising all your boys, I’ve learned a lot.

My special thanks for your words which continue to give me the impetus to become a better mom and a better woman. As a token of my gratitude, allow me to present you with a simple gift ( Your blog is a lifeline on those days when nothing seems right, and an inspiration on the days when they are.

— added by Kittymama on Friday, February 29, 2008 at 12:31 am

Kittymama, thanks so much!
Niksmom — go get ’em!!!
Tina — you are so right! Scorpio, totally.

— added by Susan Senator on Friday, February 29, 2008 at 5:34 pm

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