Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Being the change...

The first two mornings this week went like this: I get up & roust Brendan out of the tv room (right next to his room) where he's been quietly watching tv before the alarm goes off for the day to begin. He & I go ino his room & he chooses his clothes for the day. I leave his room, closing the door behind me & admonishing, "Please, only get dressed, ok?" & he replies, "Ok". I go & wash my face, then pick out my clothes for the day & dress. (For me the process takes from 10 to 15 minutes.) When I am dressed, I go back into the bathroom to get my glasses, calling out "How are you doing?" And both mornings Brendan replied, "Uhhh, getting underpanted..." Which means that he's spent the past 10-15 minutes not getting dressed. Blood pressure soars (mine) & I do my best to hold my temper while I brush my hair & think what to do...

It had been pretty much the same the week before break as well, & the break might not even have happened, so far as breaking undesirable patterns goes...

Yesterday I had had enough. I went in when he was getting his shirt on, took a deep breath, & explained to him exactly what would happen if we didn't find a way to change his dressing-time behaviour. I explained that having to chivvy him along every morning was very unpleasant for me & that when he replies "Ok" to my "Please, only get dressed." (in other words, don't do anything but get dressed) I feel as though he's making me a promise, which he then preceeds to break, which is very upsetting. And, if we can't find a way to change things, what I will do is leave him to do whatever he thinks is more worthwhile than getting dressed & then when it's time to go, I will collect him in whatever state of dress or partial dress, he is in & we will get in the car & go. If he hasn't eaten breakfast, then he doesn't get breakfast. As I am speaking, he is listening sullenly, sitting on the bed with a shirt half-over his head. It is an established fact that he can't listen & dress at the same time, & I understand this. So by choosing to unleash it all while he's dressing is somewhat counter-productive, but I decide that it has to be said, for my sanity's sake, & damn the consequences...

Then, I told him why I had not resorted to this solution (also known as "natural consequences") before. I explained that hauling him off to school in his jammies, with no breakfast, feels disrespectful to me. I don't want him to be either hungry or embarassed. But I need him to understand the importance of co-operating with the morning schedule. The thing is, Brendan runs hot & cold when it comes to getting dressed, so I've been brought to the edge of frustration time & again. The OCD has caused some bumps along the way, which led to his starting to pick out his clothes to wear last fall, since some of his shirts & undies sometimes triggered anxiety due to their reminding him of other things. The biggest problems are his being sparked by a lego design that he just has to try out just then, & his sitting & thinking during dressing time. As for giving him more time- I just don't think it would help. What Brendan really seems to need is better structure, since he seems to float through time without taking much notice of it unless it inconveniences him. When he was taking too much time eating breakfast a while back, & I got tired of chivviying him along through that part of the morning, I gave him the responsibility for checking the clock & making sure that he was done by 7:45, so he'd have time to brush his teeth & get ready to go. Any extra time was free time, so that was the incentive for eating quickly. This has worked really well, & all I have to say now is "Look at the clock." & he gets his act together. Up till now there's been sufficient variety between slow dressing days & quick dressing days that I have only contemplated following through with the consequences thing. And... I recently realised that there's another reason that I hesitate to do this...

Nearly 40 years ago my family moved to the city where I've lived ever since (except for nearly a year living in Ottawa when I was in my early 20's). I was entering 4th grade & it was the 3rd move & school since I'd started kindergarten. It was a really bad year... The school district we lived in then (we rented an apartment for a year before moving into a house) reorganised mid-year & I ended up in yet another school with new teacher, new kids... I was miserable. I had terrible stomachaches, stayed home a lot, & felt really guilty about it. I would have screaming tantrums sometimes- I remember feeling as though life was absolutely unendurable & would melt-down when I just couldn't take any more. (I should add here that I was also being sexually abused by my father, which didn't come to light until I was an adult, so I know that the overwhelmed feelings were due to this as well.) My parents' reaction, when I would melt down, was to throw cold water on me. I have no idea where this idea came from, but it did, eventually, work... but at great cost. It made me feel as though I were an uncontrollable animal when they did this. It embarassed me terribly & I'm sure that's why I eventually stopped. I never did get any sense of empathy from my parents, no support, just the sense that I was horrible & bad & worthless.

So the idea of embarassing my kid in order to get his co-operation is completely out of the question. As I write this, I realise that I could never take him to school in his pajamas (even though he told me that it would be worse to miss breakfast... :). I explained the consequences thing to him with the full intention of following through on it, but the effect was to let him know that I was at the end of my coping with the situation, I think, & to stimulate his thinking about solutions. And that's just what happened...

After we had both simmered down yesterday morning, & he was dressed & eating breakfast, I declared a break from the topic by initiating a discussion of his up-coming birthday party so that I could start laying-in supplies (always a pleasanter topic, birthday parties...). Then when we were both in a better mood I re-opened the discussion of dressing time. One thing I learned was that Brendan seemed to think that he could get "just one lego" done as well as get dressed on time, so we had a chat about the value of self-talk. I told him that sometimes I really don't want to fold the laundry, but if I don't things really get out of hand, so I tell myself "Now it's time to fold laundry." & usually I do. I explained that he has to remind himself that he has to get dressed first- that there's no time for legos first. We also decided that setting a timer would keep him anchored time-wise, so it wouldn't slip away from him. I have a kitchen timer that beeps at 10 & 5 minutes before going off, so that's a great way to keep him on track. I also told him that he might want to consider writing some of his lego ideas down, so he won't forget them & can make them after school.

By the time we left for school we were both feeling fine. We had a plan. School went really well. They were able to go outside & play in the snow & Brendan got his fondest wish- to be buried in the snow :) They were doing academic assessments, too, & Brendan told me that not only did the math assessment go well, but he really enjoyed it.

This morning the timer was in place & just as I was going in to his room to get him going, he ran past me into the bathroom. Diarrhea. Sigh. We set the timer anyway when he was done (& feeling better) & I got into the bathroom to wash my face. As I came out, I heard legos rattling & steeled myself... "How's it going?" "I'm dressed!" "Oh!" I went in & he was fully dressed by the lego bin. He told me that he figured he had some time left because the timer hadn't gone off yet (it had taken him barely 5 minutes to dress :). I gently explained that, because he'd spent a lot of time in the bathroom, he really needed to go eat breakfast, & then thanked him for getting dressed so beautifully. This made me realise that by setting a timer, I have basically given him this time to use as he wishes- as long as he gets dressed first. I'm going to have to remember to be respectful of this... He bopped downstairs in pretty good form & ate some toast. Charlie came home to get him (Wednesday he gives me a break from school driving) & Brendan ran for the bathroom again. I was ready to keep him home, but dad the doctor said "Get the Kaopectate..." Well, he's not running a fever & is in very good spirits, & Charlie said he'd alert Cherie that I'd come & get Brendan if he had any more trouble. And they packed spare boxers in his backpack (much to Brendan's amusement).

Over & over I am struck by how much my own childhood experiences are shaping Brendan's. I am also aware that the abuse I experienced as a child has made me much more empathetic toward my son's autism. When he melts down- for different reasons than I did- I want to support him, to hold him if he can tolerate it, & to stay with him & not let him suffer alone. It is healing to treat him the way I wished I'd been treated... I am aware, of course, that he is not me, & that his needs may be different than mine, so I try to keep this in mind as well. Brendan has responded well to empathy, though. And sometimes when he perceives that I am sad or upset, he hugs me & speaks kindly to me. :)

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5 Comments:

At 11:03 AM, Blogger Sharon said...

It was good to read about how you managed that. And though this may sound trite or patronising, I really don't mean it that way; I think it's wonderful that you can use the bad experiences of your past to find a way to be a better parent.

 
At 1:35 PM, Blogger Club 166 said...

We, too, have struggled with the "getting dressed" thing with our 7 year old, Buddy Boy.

We've used a timer for other tasks, not sure why we haven't tried it for this one. Perhaps we shall.

Sorry to hear about your bad experiences early in life, but glad that you have turned them into a positive force.

 
At 3:41 PM, Blogger Lisa/Jedi said...

Thanks, friends. In no way do I find your remarks patronising, Sharon! I appreciate your taking the time to comment :)

I am realising more & more that my early bad experiences & subsequent recovery work are an integral part of who I am, in the same way that Brendan's autism is part of him. So I guess that makes us a good team!

 
At 5:00 AM, Blogger Jackie said...

I have noticed alot of teachers, in Special Ed, will use humilation as a way to get a special needs child to behave.

I have Asperger's Syndrome. I can't tell you how many times in high schools, the teachers would humilate me to try and get me either to behave, or to sense that I didn't have a right to burden them with my inclusion in their classroom.

It wasn't like they even tried to veil it either, it was completely out in the open. I wish the teachers could understand what you do.

I never felt like I was an uncontrollable animal, however I did feel that most of society was against me. Then people wonder why those on the spectrum are so anti-social. When almost all of their social interaction from childhood, has been negative experiences.

 
At 8:47 PM, Blogger kristina said...

What a powerful post---it's going to take me a while to process it all. What you describe about Brendan's getting dresed and getting distracted, simultaneously is something I see often in our house--- in my own ADHD husband. Jim starts doing one thing before he's even halfway through the next; he starts talking about other topics in mid-sentence----I can usually follow along, keeps one quick on one's feet and brainwaves. I also know that sometimes he gets his best ideas for his writing and research when his mind is in that kind of mega-overdrive and I just let it roll, as it were, and try to save questions for later.

Morning has never been an easy time for us until this year. I realized I had along history of worrying about the whole process, esp. in getting Charlie dressed----Jim handles it most days now and maybe because he and Charlie have similar ways of thinking (more than my own), it has been smooth(er). Jim remembers a lot of his anxieties in the morning when his parents frantically rushed him off to school or to the bus and I think he really experiences the whole situation from Chralie's view.

 

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