Susan's Blog

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Doing it by the book

I would guess that one of the most common wishes of the autism parent would be to know what one’s child is thinking.  That’s been mine.  Even knowing that neurotypical children don’t always readily tell you what they’re thinking, it doesn’t change the fact that we want to know.  And because neurotypical children presumably show themselves more like we adults do, maybe they are easier to figure out, for the most part.

Nat does not show himself, in general, in ways that are easily recognizable.  I know if he’s happy, because his self-talking becomes giddy and giggly.  But I don’t often know why he’s happy.  More and more, however, if I listen carefully to the self-talk, I can hear a word that might tell me.

Nat’s self-talk these days are often about us and what we are — or are not — doing.  If Ben is still at the computer by 11a.m., rather than at the breakfast table, we will most certainly hear, “Ben breakfast,” embedded in the pattern of the self-talk that swirls around us.  Ben is clearly in violation of the morning routine, and Nat is not happy about it.  I don’t think he even likes when we leave the house.  To have one of us gone is to tear the household fiber.  Not knowing when we’re coming back makes him anxious.  Today when I got back from the gym, I heard Nat stomping extra quickly upstairs, and I heard animated self-talking.  “Nat!”  I said.  “Are you happy that I’m home?”

“Yes,” he said.  And then, “whooo-feeeem hoooome.”  Something like that, ending in home, all stretched out.  Gotcha, Nat.  But, of course, he did not tell me the word “home;” he told himself and let me figure it out.  That’s progress, but I want more.

Nat got pretty upset this afternoon when he came back from a walk into town with Ned, and Ned stashed what he’d bought — a book for my birthday — in the trunk of his car before they came into the house.  The trunk of Ned’s car is one of his hiding places for my presents.  Not that I look; I just know, because all of the house hiding places are ones I use, for everyone else’s presents.

Nat came in saying, “Daddy will bring the book in.”  Ned kept telling him that the book was to stay in the car.  “Some things stay in the car,” he said, making it a rule.  But Nat continued to work himself up about it, though never biting himself or yelling.  The worst he did was jump high and hard, crashing down onto the floor, and making Ben hid under the table.

Eventually Ned had to say that we were not talking about it anymore, to be firm with Nat and thereby help herd him back in between the safety of hard rules.  It kind of helped.  I directed Nat to sit down, and he complied immediately.  He knew he was acting inappropriately.  He knew he was a bit out of control.  But he was so upset about this rupture in the way things are done that he just could not stay calm about it.  I understood, I could almost feel how panicked he was; but I knew we could not alter anything, and that was for his own sake.  This world disappoints us, people let us down and do stupid, inexplicable things, and the sooner Nat understands that, the better.  It is another tough job for parents, to let their children struggle about something and come through it stronger.

Easy to say, but I was worried as we packed Nat up and got into the car to bring him back to the House in time for dinner there.  I had a shadow of that heart-in-throat feeling, of the question, “Is he going to attack one of us in the car, over the book?”  But for the most part, I felt okay.  Sad but okay.  I don’t like when we revisit the terrifying behaviors of the past, even when we don’t get there.

We drove around the Franklin Park Zoo rotary and into Boston.  Nat was sucking his thumb so hard the chirping sounded like the aviary at the zoo.  “Nat, what are you thinking about?” asked Ned, steering onto the bridge past the clock tower.

“Book,” Nat answered, without hesitation.  He continued sucking his thumb, but said nothing else about it.  “Thanks for telling me, and for staying so calm,” I said, but truly there wasn’t a praise phrase in the world that could capture my pride in his growth and self-control.


One small step towards Mom’s birthday…One GIANT leap (stomp) for Nat 🙂
I could feel the tension, though. Growing pains…Oy.

— added by Timmy's Mom on Monday, October 4, 2010 at 5:36 am

Great post! Now what kind of cake….. Lisa

— added by lisa on Monday, October 4, 2010 at 10:38 am

That truly is phenomenal progress! I had a similar experience with my little guy recently, and was so proud he didn’t pinch me even if it did take forty-five minutes to get his shoes on! I hope someday we can both get to a place where the thought of aggression occuring doesn’t even cross our minds. Good for Nat, and good for you.

— added by kim mccafferty on Monday, October 4, 2010 at 1:14 pm

One of my former students, an autistic teen who was quite verbal but no able to exert much self-control, told me that “thoughts get stuck” in his head and “they hurt his brain.”
I guess that if things aren’t done properly, to Nat’s way of thinking, his brain starts to hurt.
And poor Ben for being scared of his brother and hiding under the table! Autism has a way of giving PTSD to the people in its wake. I can’t imagine how it must feel to worry that your adult child might attack you.
I have three “normal” kids and I am glad that their thoughts are private. Sure, I can tell from their actions and their facial expressions and from what they say how they’re feeling but we all have to live our own lives and we all deserve privacy. (Amazingly, I am a Jewish mother. Incredible, right?)
It would be really horrible if my kids were happy all the time. That would make happiness meaningless and they’d be less than human. It’s dissatisfaction and even sadness that makes us try for better things and it’sk knowing that they won’t last that makes us cherish the good times.

— added by Sunni on Monday, October 4, 2010 at 7:30 pm

Your point about happiness is very very important…

— added by Susan Senator on Monday, October 4, 2010 at 7:47 pm

I was wondering, what if Ned had asked Nat to hide the book for him? Would he have? Just a thought.

— added by Jane in Wisconsin on Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 3:31 am

Wow, Jane, I don’t know! I’m going to mention this idea to Ned. Even if Ned had said, “Nat, take this book, don’t show Mommy, and put it in your room. Then when it’s your birthday you can give it to her. But she can’t see it now! Okay?”

— added by Susan Senator on Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 5:30 am