Thursday, February 16, 2006

Spirals... & living with JRR

When I was in Survivor recovery (see "History pt. 1 back in the January archive) I learned that the process seems to take an upward spiral course... you deal with something difficult, think you're over it, move on to the next thing, & then the old stuff comes back again. Usually it's pieces you couldn't get to the first time, deeper, bigger, what you just didn't have the strength to face. Sometimes it's the "next level" of issues. One of my recovery issues was that a great deal of my abuse was from when I was very young & didn't have words to describe the feelings/experiences. As an adult, coping with the abuse, I used to have these pre-verbal flashbacks, re-experiencing the abuse, that were absolutely terrifying, because I had no words to describe what was happening & what I was feeling. The "next level" of these experiences came when I had an infant of my own. Just seeing how helpless he was frightened me... but because I had experienced the previous level of recovery, I knew what was happening & was able to find help before I became overwhelmed by my feelings. This is the "upward" part of the spiral- revisiting things with greater insight, & therefore a better chance of not being knocked-down by the experience.

What brought my recovery spiral experiences to mind is a similar thing I see happening to B these days. I never have, nor do I now, see B's life-journey with autism + OCD, Tourettes, etc. as a process of recovery similar to my own... but it has been interesting to see that B seems these days to be revisiting earlier stages of development on a higher level of functioning. I mentioned in my earlier post today that B has started whacking himself on the head in a most disturbing (& sometimes injurious) manner. This sort of behaviour when B was 5 years old is what led us to seek out a child psychologist & we were very fortunate to find Dr. M, who is still an important member of the village. Because we were able to find a positive (& somewhat humourous) resolution back then (detailed in my previous post) I feel confident that we'll be able to do so again, although there are some twists... for one, B is aware of what we're doing & why, which was not the case four years ago. He still thinks it's funny, but is also hitting himself on purpose at times to get us to throw beachballs at him. **sigh** I have explained that this is not the idea... On the positive side, when I request that he try to catch the balls I'm throwing, he happily complies, so there is hope of re-wiring the perseverative behaviour away from whacking himself (as long as I remind him why we're doing this!).

The other "old" behaviour that B has been revisiting is "listing". Because he's doing it on a higher cognitive level, it took me a while to put my finger on it... it was my gut that finally clued me in. When B was in kindergarten & first grade almost all of our time spent together in the car was spent with B reciting lists of things. He did it a bit in other situations, particularly stressful ones, but the car was the main venue. We would start out ok, with a bit of chat, but it always evolved in B wanting to list all of the different kinds of bionicles, their different masks (by name) & their attributes. If it wasn't bionicles, it was other interests- detailed lists of everything he knew about these things... it nearly drove me mad. I started finding excuses to ask him to stop- the traffic was too heavy & I needed to concentrate, etc. I didn't want to be disrespectful of him or his need to tell me things, & I sure didn't want to cut off or limit our communication!! But it didn't feel like communication, really. When I finally brought it up with Dr. M, he explained that it was a classic Aspergers-type behaviour. It was B's way of chatting- but it was not reciprocal. Dr. M helped us to find ways to help B learn to stop listing & actually have 2-way conversations, by role-playing conversations, taking turns asking each-other questions & responding, & reminding him gently when he'd lapse back into listing behaviour. B has become quite the conversationalist in the intervening years & I really enjoy our conversations, which range everywhere: string theory, power rangers, brainstorming new bionicle creatures, discussing Miyazaki movies, what happens when people die, what happens to bionicles when they die... you get the drift. But over the past couple of weeks, I have found myself feeling grumpy in the car on our rides to school, asking B to hold off on chatting while I navigate traffic, deal with snow... I realised that I was getting tired of his conversations, & that these conversations were mostly B telling me the attributes of the bionicle creatures he'd been dreaming up... sound familiar? Well, I was fooled at first. To be honest, I am often awed by my kid's ingeniousness & attention to detail when creating his creatures. He creates cosmologies for them- unique languages, musical styles, & spirituality. There are times when it feels like I'm living with JRR Tolkien! And I really enjoy hearing him tell me all about these details, although I really wish he were moved to write all this stuff down. Even if he doesn't do anything with it for years, he'd have amazing background for future stories.

Well, on the third morning in a row that B wanted to tell me all about what the Great Spirit looks like to Rusagi on the way to school, I realised that he was actually listing again. Figuring it out helped me a lot. His revisiting these behaviours really makes sense, in light of his present challenges. The coping methods he's used for quite some time are not helping any more & he doesn't have much in place at the moment, so it seems quite reasonable that he'd fall back on older comfort behaviours. I feel pretty confident that once he's feeling more in charge of his life again, he'll go back to having conversations. It's just so interesting, though, to find him spiralling through life as I do. I may be the mom, but it's also nice to remember that he's on his own life-journey, just like me.


At 10:35 PM, Blogger Zilari said...

Oh wow...the "listing" sounds very familiar! I am not as prone to this in writing, but when speaking I often go into "listing" mode practically unconsciously. It is a perseverative thing...when one is listing, one has the need to "finish" what one has started, which can mean saying the right number of things or filling in all the information necessary until the thought feels complete. It is not just a vocal "stim", least with me, sometimes I end up "listing" about the same subject several days in a row because I cannot figure out if I've said everything that needs to be said, or whether I've left out some important piece of information. I do not know if this is the case with B, but it might be to some extent...perhaps he feels that he has to get the information out perfectly otherwise it isn't really "finished".

I do not (much) mind being "stopped" from is a bit unnerving at first but nowadays I just laugh and think, "Oh wow, I'm doing it again!" My boyfriend usually points it out to me...he is wonderful and VERY patient and understanding (and quite quirky himself...not to AS levels, but enough so that he understands my world to some extent). Once we were going somewhere in the car and I started listing all the different kinds of eyedrops that were available in the drugstore, and what the active ingredients were (one of my ongoing fixations is reading / memorizing / reciting ingredients labels). I'd gotten to noting the antihistamine variety when I was stalled...and we both just laughed at that point. I must admit, though, I do appreciate being allowed to finish the listing some of the time. It is very satisfying, and sometimes I really do feel that getting "all the information" out properly is very important.

As for the head-whacking...I had a bit of a problem with that when I was about 12 (it was a very frustrating time of life). I have always been very logical / rational, but I don't even know how I got the idea to whack myself in the head. It was good for breaking through moments of heavy frustration, but it also was not healthy (and scared the heck out of my teachers). I eventually stopped by substituting things like crumpling paper into a ball or clenching my fists tightly. Hopefully this issue is soon resolved for B.

At 10:20 AM, Blogger Lisa/Jedi said...

I appreciate your insights very much zilari!! We were aware that the listing is perseverative & also has a claming effect on B, but it's easy to lose sight of the benefits for him (as long as it isn't hurting him!). We do try to ignore the perseverative behaviours that do not cause injuries & just let him be. Not only is it important to "choose your battles" when raising a kid, but how will he ever learn to respect himself if we're always meddling?

I did finally get a constructive handle on updating the ball-pelting therapy :) This morning at breakfast he began whacking himself & it seemed to get worse when I first tossed a ball at him. Then I tried structuring things a bit more, turning it into a game of catch. I asked him to throw the ball back to me by extending his arm all the way out from his body, explaining that we're trying to re-train his neural pathways to move away from his head... I think it was the "neural pathways" that sucked him in- he just loves big words!! Soon he was completely distracted & we could continue with our morning. I had the chance to demo this at school this morning, too, when he began hitting himself during a choice-time game with some of the other kids. I asked him to come out into the hall & play catch, & his teacher came with us. His OT & speech teachers showed-up while we were out there, too, so they could observe. Jen- B's classroom teacher- took over the game & tried throwing with either hand, which B was doing easily (he's nearly ambidextrous). When I left, he was segue-ing nicely into therapy time, with beachballs available if the need arose :)

At 6:21 PM, Blogger Mom to Mr. Handsome said...

That's interesting about the spiral effect. I also was abused as a child and when my daughter was young (birth-3 years old) I would have horrible nightmares. I could'nt remember what they were about, but the feelings were so intense I would wake up crying. I used to go sit in her room while she slept, after having those dreams, in order to let me know she was safe and so was I.
Take care on your journey.


At 6:34 PM, Blogger not my blg said...

Perhaps B could use one of those handheld recorders to list into and then replay it to see if he has missed anything. It's a lot easier than writing and it can be saved for future reference. Alexander loves it when I make a claw out of my hand and then come straight at his face. He thinks its very funny. He also likes beach balls bounced off his head for some reason, but as of now, he is very pain averse and when he bumps a body part on something he'll come over and say " I bumped my head, kiss it" and then after the kiss walks away and says "all betta". My nephew, who has Asperger's, althougth its undiagnosed, but very clear to me, will talk about computers unless you stop him and say enough already. He's 19 now and he accepts the fact that not everyone wants to talk about computers. When he was younger, it was bugs.


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