Susan's Blog

Monday, January 2, 2006

Bloodsucker Pinch

Who knows?
I thought I was homefree. I thought vacation was almost over, and that we’d done okay, considering all the down time for Nat and my abysmal lack of planning. I suppose that is part of it; could there be any parent more ill-matched for a structure-and-consistency-loving autistic son than I, an impulsive, in-the-moment, mood-swinging’ gal?

I was patting myself on the back for having gotten Nat five days of activities with people he enjoys. S took him running one day, to McDonald’s another day, and shooting hoops another day, all with ice cream at the end. And M took Nat to the Aquarium yesterday, and then to see one of those 3-D movie shows where the seats actually move, Disney-style. Each day I was told that Nat “did great, really enjoyed himself.”

Not only that: we also baked a gingerbread house and decorated it, and I’ve been letting him eat it over a period of days.

So we decided, spur-of-the-moment, to spend our last dinner of vacation at Bertucci’s, so that I wouldn’t have to cook, because I hate cooking for my children, who hate everything I make except for noodles and chicken nuggets. I make other meals, but I get so sick of having them grimace. Restaurants are one of the few activities we can do as a family successfully. I have always been proud of how my boys behave well in a restaurant. As toddlers, I never let them run around the way so many people do. They played with the toys they had brought and sat nicely in their chairs. And now, they are still well-behaved in restaurants. Nat, in particular does extremely well, even orders for himself sometimes.

Maybe it was because I made Nat tie his own shoes. He likes the way I do it, nice and tight. Maybe it was because Ned cautioned him not to open his door too quickly so as to avoid dinging the car parked next to us. Whatever it was, Nat went into Bertucci’s pinching. Ned kept taking him outside, or sitting him down. Ned was really in control, more than I would have been.

But we thought Nat was okay, which he was not, when we got to the table (a different one than usual, oh no). Nat pinched Max really hard and made a welt on his arm, and some blood. Max was trying not to cry. Ned took Nat outside. Everyone was watching us, or so I felt. I had to keep leaving Max and Ben to check on Ned and Nat. Thank God Max is old enough for that, but still, how terrible to have to be strong and in charge when you want to just scream and cry about your awful older brother.

What could I say, to make it better? I told Nat to apologize, which he did. He even bent to kiss Ned’s hand, for some reason, God bless him. I stroked Max’s hand, but he is a huge thirteen-year-old; does he want his mother to do that? I talked about how awful this was, and how sorry I was. But do my apologies just make him feel sick, or guilty? Where does it all go? He sat there with the ice on his arm while we ordered drinks.

I told them a story of how when I was a kid, my sister and I stayed at my aunt and uncle’s house for a weekend and we discovered that we had no toothpaste in our bathroom. We started to fight about who would have to ask them for the toothpaste, since for some reason we both felt too shy to do it. We ended up in a huge fight, with Laura pinching my arm so hard that I had a welt, similar to Max’s. I told him we called these “bloodsucker pinches,” and he smiled a little bit. I said it is the kind of pinch brothers and sisters specialize in.

I also said that I think I was a little luckier because my sister felt awful a few moments later about what she had done. But then I looked at Nat, who was looking down at his placemat. I said, “Well, who knows? He may be feeling pretty bad, too.”

But does that help? What helps? Why did it happen in the first place? Who knows?


It is so hard to deal with the sibling issue, isn’t it? I struggle with that all the time with my older boy Danny, age 9, who has to constantly put up with my Sam (autistic, age 6) and his issues. Sam is not one to pinch, hit or kick, but it is the constant verbal stimming, the disregard for personal property, the fact that we can’t do “normal” family things b/c of Sam’s inability to cope with things like neighborhood block parties, concerts, etc. We walk a fine line as we try to balance Sam’s needs with Danny’s and often are left feeling like we have have not done justice to either. It is just a fact of life that the siblings get a raw deal, but if not this, it might be something else in their lives that causes the pain. Maybe a sibling who outshines them in athletics or academics. Maybe feeling lost in the midst of a family not truly focused on their kids b/c the parents are caught up in their careers and social lives. Hard to know the what if’s. I know that I, for one, know at the least that both of my children know that they are my priority and I have to hope that this makes up for much of which is lost to my older son as he copes with having a brother who lives in his own little world most of the time. I make sure to spend a lot of one on one time with Danny whenever possible. Our times together are so precious to me, maybe more than they are to Danny. They validate me as a mother, remind me that I am doing things right, and that maybe Danny makes a lot of sacrifices for Sam’s autism, but in the end, he is a great kid who will probably grow into an amazing man, full of generosity and empathy for others.

Sam’s mom

— added by Sam's mom on Monday, January 2, 2006 at 9:17 pm

I was going to say before you mentioned the story with your sister that the episode between Max and Nat sounded very much like typical sibling behavior. I think as parents of Autistic kids, we tend to put so much of what they do under a microscope and so then it becomes a fine line between what’s normal and what there is to feel sad/bad about. For Max, he got pinched by his older brother….and while it did hurt physically maybe in some ways it wasn’t so bad. Maybe kids his age also say “hey my older brother gave me a mark on my arm”, etc. I think you are doing a great job.

-Massachusetts Mama

— added by Anonymous on Monday, January 2, 2006 at 9:45 pm

Thanks for these, guys, as you know it is such a soul-twisting issue, worrying that the siblings are not getting what they need!

— added by Susan Senator on Tuesday, January 3, 2006 at 6:21 am

I have lately been thinking about how Charlie’s more “challenging” and esp. physical/agressive behaviors (bang, hit, pinch) are not always directly attributable to something that happens immediately (such as your supposition about Ned having to tie his shoes, or being cautioned not to open the door too quickly). Charlie often has “delayed reactions” to hearing a lot of “don’t do that” language, or having demands placed on him. I suspect he is thinking it over and feeling kind of peeved and then he just has an outburst and feels immediately bad–in Charlie’s case, rather than saying something to make it better like “I’m sorry,” he tends to do something else he should’t. So there’s more of a mess to mop up!

And I do think that, for Charlie and perhaps other ASD kids, the accumulation of vacation “time off” from school can add up to one bloodsucker moment. I was thinking we were homefree too with behaviors over the break and then we had a final tantrum–I kind of expected it–so much he doesn’t even know he wants to say.

— added by kristina on Tuesday, January 3, 2006 at 2:58 pm

We have the same problem with Noah. Unfortunately, since he is the younger sibling, sometimes it is hard to really tell who did what to who – he is 5 and his bro is 7.

Now, we have the school telling us that they are going to pull him out of his classroom, and they want him put on meds because he is so aggressive. He’s only five. I worry about when he’s 7, 10, 15.

It’s a neverending struggle and every damn day you just get up and do the best you can all over again.

— added by Diamond on Tuesday, January 3, 2006 at 10:16 pm

Susan, I hope you don’t mind a few constructive suggestions. I know it can be hard to deal with kids acting up in restaurants (it wasn’t until I had two kids that I realized how much hassle I had put my mom through!) and I am not trying to be judgmental, but I agree with Massachusetts Mama’s comment that this sort of stuff happens between siblings, and I think you made it (and Nat) out to be much more “awful” than the situation called for.

If I am understanding your post correctly, after Nat apologized, you made a huge fuss over Max’s welt and how awful it (and, by implication, Nat) was. Then you said that you were luckier than Max because when your sister pinched you, she felt awful about what she had done (again implying that Nat deserved to feel awful, as well as suggesting that you didn’t believe he was capable of such feelings). And then you said, again in front of Nat, that “who knows” how he feels.

And you said all of this after Nat had already apologized and kissed the welt to make it better, which clearly demonstrated that he understood he had hurt Max.

If I were in Nat’s position, I would have been very upset.

Please try to keep in mind that, just because an autistic person may not express emotion through voice and body language in the usual ways, that doesn’t mean the person has no emotion. It just reflects the fact that there are significant differences in how the brain processes language.

Would you want someone to carry on a conversation like that in front of you, as if you weren’t even there, speculating on whether or not you felt anything? I very much doubt it.

Again, I am not trying to be harsh or judgmental, and I apologize if this comment comes across in such a way. (I am particularly sensitive about this issue because I show very little emotion in my voice, and people sometimes misunderstand my feelings as a result.)

— added by Bonnie Ventura on Wednesday, January 4, 2006 at 5:19 pm

Bonnie, I always value your input, you know that. I don’t agree with you this time, the part where I made “too big a fuss” over Max’s welt. It was a brutal injury and no matter what Nat felt about it, Max felt worse, being injured and crying in front of everyone, at 13. We always talk about what family members have done — in front of them, no secrets — I don’t think it was bad to do that, and to let Nat in on what we felt was a destructive thing to do. I was thrilled that he showed remorse, and I think that if he understood that I was wondering if he had feelings about this, then that is good news. It will do him good to hear what we all feel about this kind of behavior; all of my kids need to hear that this is not to be tolerated.

Again, I understand what you are saying: be sensitive to Nat’s feelings, too. Don’t worry. I was, and I always try to be. But this was awful, trust me. And thank you for your perspective! It really made me think…

— added by Susan Senator on Wednesday, January 4, 2006 at 6:14 pm

I probably misunderstood the context of your post, Susan, because we use words differently.

To my mind, a “brutal injury” might be an attack by a knife-wielding criminal, or perhaps a mauling by a vicious dog. I wouldn’t use such a phrase to describe a sibling fight.

I know that pinching can get nasty sometimes; my sister pinched the heck out of me when she was about 10. I ended up with scars on my hands for years. Because I was often the instigator of our squabbles, my mom had no sympathy. She just sent us both to our rooms.

Anyway, if you regularly use language like “awful” and “brutal” in describing everyday incidents, then I don’t expect it would bother Nat because he would be used to it.

I sometimes go too far to the other extreme when I talk to my kids and don’t correct them strongly enough. (My husband complains that he always ends up having to be the “villain” around the house.)

— added by Bonnie Ventura on Thursday, January 5, 2006 at 1:29 am