Friday, December 01, 2006

Life is an Adventure Quest...

Thump, thump, thump... Brendan is supposed to be dressing for school, but I can tell he's having trouble with tics, thanks to the frantic thumps coming from his room (made by foot hitting the floor, not any other part of his body, thank goodness- I know this particular tic...). Yesterday at school, unfortunately, it was his head hitting a window, which we didn't discover until Charlie gave him his bath last night & asked about the bruise on his forehead... Other than the obvious problems with heads hitting windows hard enough to bruise (nothing broken this time), the tics themselves are very intrusive these days, distracting him from what he wants to be doing & in some cases preventing him from doing things. I verbally checked in with him this morning, hearing the thumps, & he responded something indistinct about the "darn tics", but was eventually able to finish dressing. I went in to open his curtains & he was fuming about how hard it was to handle them. He said that it was like constantly being under attack, with no way of winning. For some reason, I immediately thought of Brendan's current favourite online game these days, Adventure Quest.

I've never been a big fan of bash 'em up computer games, preferring puzzles & games that make one think, & have tried to steer Brendan to these more educational types of games as well. We have always had a policy of no guns of any sort since Brendan was old enough to have toys. Even the squirt guns have to be shaped like other things ("spitting fish" was an early name for one of Brendan's water toys). This is what life is like when your father is a registered Conscientious Objector & mom had lots of disabled Vietnam vets as friends during her wheelchair basketball days, & both parents feel that kids are exposed to too much violence too soon these days. Our philosophy doesn't seem to have hurt Brendan (so far) & we've had a lot of thoughtful discussions with him about appropriate ways to vent strong feelings, like anger, so that he still can get things out of his system. We haven't gone quite so far as to ban any weapon toys, although I kind of felt funny about getting him a toy lightsabre when he was a Jedi for Halloween a few years ago. However, seeing him do the "moves" he'd seen in Star Wars once he got the sabre was worth all the funny feelings in the world- the kid was good! My normally 2-left-feet kid looked so cool with that sabre...Made me wish he didn't have such an aversion to martial arts... but that's a whole other topic. In any case, we've used the same low-violence guidelines when helping Brendan choose games, & the taste he's developed over the years has followed in our footsteps. When I first saw him watching our minister's son play Adventure Quest on a computer at church I wasn't so sure about it. An awful lot of bashing & monster fighting going on... but there were no guns involved, & there also seemed to be an element of strategy & tactical thinking, so neither Charlie nor I objected when he wanted to play at home.

As with many of his obsessions, Brendan has been learning a lot from the intersection of AQ & real life... how to cope with the frustration of not being able to log-in because too many others are online (there are only so many spots for non-members)- we set a timer for 10 minutes & told him he could check the site only when it went off, which worked very well; how to save his money for something he really wants- a $20 one-time membersip fee that now allows him to log-in without waiting; how to manage his "finances" (gold he earns from battling monsters, used to buy tools & armour); how to keep track of more than one set of points, so he can gauge whether or not he has enough to beat the monster (lots of coaching from us).

So it hit me this morning, when Brendan mentioned the feeling that he was constantly being attacked by his tics & not able to do anything about them, that AQ is a very good metaphor for how he really is managing. I told him that it may feel like he's not making progress with the tics, but that I see him having done a lot over the past 2 1/2 years (that he's had tics) to learn how to live with them. I reminded him that, for example, he couldn't go into JoAnn Fabrics in the early days because there was too much stimulation from all the stuff there, & that he'd gone there with me just a week ago to choose fabric to make him a new wizard robe without any trouble at all. Then I told him that it all reminded me of his Adventure Quest game. At the beginning he was really inexperienced & made lot of mistakes & got creamed by the monsters. These days the frustration is much less common, & he has collected an impressive array of tools & pet helpers that he intentionally put together to counter the widest array of monsters. He still occasionally runs into trouble because he gets stuck on using the same tools or pets all the time (he still needs to work on the flexibility of his thinking) but he's made great strides & feels really good about it. My hope is that he'll get in the habit of reflecting on his life skills in the way that he's learning to think about his progress in AQ, & maybe the feeling that he's not rising to the challenges will abate some. Who knew the game I felt so ambivalent about would provide such an apt metaphor for his life right now...? (It doesn't hurt that AQ has a strong undercurrent of humour, too, as in the "Snow Bunny Zard" monster he encountered this afternoon, complete with cute ears & ice carrots as a weapon- mad brilliance...)

Charlie took today off work, mostly so we could go out to lunch to celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary (this Sunday). We also managed to get my car in for it's annual inspection, get Brendan to & from school, & get me to the dentist to have a crown re-cemented, all before 3:00 pm. Lunch was really nice, we even had wine (not something we usually do at lunch for obvious reasons) & designed the head of the dragon for the mummers play we're organising for church on the 17th- a true creative collaboration :) (We did a similar thing 19 years ago, going out to dinner & designing our wedding rings as we chatted through the meal.) It rained really hard for a goodly part of the day, & I managed to slip & fall into a puddle when we picked Brendan up from school, banging my left knee again & requiring a trip to the office for ice & sympathy :) And... in spite of the post-fall achiness, I actually ran the first indigo vat this afternoon. Hooray!! I tied some furoshiki (wrapping cloth) squares for shibori (japanese tie-dyeing) to test patterns I might want to use for the hippari top I made to indigo dye, & did a bunch of t-shirts & few of the skeins of yarn before the vat got too cold. Now that it's made I can revive it on & off until I'm done- which could be a while, since I decided it might be nice to shibori-dye some scarves for Brendan's teachers & therapists as holiday presents. I also pinned him down yesterday about what he'd like to do for his teachers & he decided he wanted to bead some bracelets for them, so he picked some nice faceted glass beads out of the Fire Mountain catalogue & I ordered them. He's been enjoying making beaded things lately for the jewelry sale at school to support the Heifer Project, so I think making the bracelets will seem less chore-like that gift making has been other years- it's hard to help him imagine giving a gift from his heart when his heart isn't in it... :)


At 10:57 PM, Blogger Kristina Chew said...

First, I can't thank you enough for the comment you left on Autismland today-----it's the ABA has helped Charlie and me get through these moments. We've worked a lot on teaching Charlie to do other things besides using his head when upset and also on trying to figure out what causes that particular behavior. I guess this is one of the numerous critiques of ABA----but it does involve looking at "behavior" from a rather, shall we say, detached perspective. And somehow that has taught me to stand back when Charlie is having a tough moment and just deal very pragmatically with the situation at hand. We also did Crisis Management Training which was sort of like a mini-course in taikwando, as far as how to use one's body, to position your body, and not to "fight" your child's energy but to go with the flow of it, so to speak.

Don't know if that made any sense, I will try to think better of how to say it for a future post.

AQ seems like the right metaphor for how Brendan is managing with the tics and all----and I have been thinking of AQ in relation to Charlie. Thanks for your great spirit!

At 11:43 PM, Blogger Zilari said...

Kristina -- I think that you might be giving too much credit to "ABA" as a concept. The things you do with Charlie are *called* ABA, however, that doesn't mean that it's the methodology or anything about "behaviorism" that is what's helping him.

Being able to stand back and observe a situation pragmatically (as in, without "reading into" the autistic person's actions too much), is not what behaviorism is about.

Critiques of ABA don't have anything to do with the aspects of it you're seeing as pragmatic -- rather, they have to do with the fact that the history of behaviorism reveals a lack of respect for the internal state of the person (not that I don't think you respect your child's internal state or what he might be's obvious that you're interested in knowing how he really feels and attempt to figure it out -- I'm just saying that there's nothing in behaviorism that demands this.)

Sometimes, respecting a person's internal state IS about standing back and "detaching" yourself from making too many assumptions, but that doesn't necessarily have to relate to ABA.


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