I was on my way home from NC yesterday, so Gail was home alone with Eric during his most recent autistic melt down. (Picture Macaulay Culkin from the movie “Home Alone,” with his hands on his cheeks with an “oh no!” look on his face.)
Eric had become very upset, but it was not exactly clear as to why. Gail couldn’t get him to either calm down or to explain why he felt that way. She couldn’t diffuse the escalation.
She figured this could have been happening for a number of reasons. Eric wanted to go to the mall and was told he could not. (He had nothing to do at the mall, other than to get more agitated and into trouble. Gail knows better than to take that risk on by herself at those times.) The TV was turned off because Eric’s favorite driver was losing the NASCAR race, and this was increasing his agitation. He was caught sneaking into things, and he hates being caught. He will not be able to see his father next weekend as he will be in NC with Gail and me that week. All this, and/or who knows what else, could have been a reason for his fit.
So he was starting to get in Gail’s face. By that I mean with clenched fists, inches from her face, no matter where Gail turned. He would stop her from doing whatever she was trying to do, blocking her way with what most people would interpret as a very threatening face and pose. He was staring at her and pounding the walls and cabinets with his fists. He was in a rage, yelling a cussing. He then started throwing things all over the house, knocking down chairs, and such. In the past, violence has gotten much worse.
Fortunately, Gail was able to break through by threatening to cancel Eric’s visit with his father today. Eric loves the occasional time he spends with his father. So he voluntarily went up to his room, and gradually the pounding, yelling, cussing, and agitation settled.
This is all very disturbing for Gail, too. She has been through it hundreds of times, but they each take their toll. Gail tries very hard to provide a structured environment for Eric, and to provide verbal and visual cues for him, to maintain some measure of sanity. We have a PECS system on the refrigerator that Eric looks at all the time to know what he is to do next. He would be lost without the help and direction he gets from Gail, and from his school and program staff. Eric is very disabled by his condition, and it is a valid excuse, but it doesn’t take away the horrible toll it takes on my wife.
So today, Gail again proved her Princesshood to me. Even though she was pissed, even though she was hurt to the point of tears for the thanks she gets (“you fucking bitch!!”) for all she does for her son, even though she is tired, really tired of all this endless shit, she helped him figure it out.
She presented him with a series of typewritten questions, because he can see them better than he can hear them. Also, she had to entice him into cooperating with chocolate chip cookies (which works for me, too!) She asked him to circle the right answers.
Why I was mad and angry
1) My favorite driver is Tony Stewart and he was not winning.
2) I wanted to go to the mall to buy a toy and my Mom did not want to take me there.
3) I thought I was grounded for having a fit.
4) I did not get to watch the rest of the race because I was having a fit.
5) I snuck into my Mom’s bathroom, closet and pantry and she caught me.
6) I like to get mad and have a fit.
7) I want to go to my Dad’s next weekend but I will be in North Carolina.
Eric circled numbers 2 and 7. He got a cookie. Gail continued with another typewritten sheet:
What does a fit get me
1) I think that my Mom will change her mind.
2) I want to scare my Mom.
3) I want to hurt my Mom.
4) I like being angry, throw things, call my Mom bad names, cuss.
5) I am angry with myself and I want to be grounded.
Eric did not circle any of these. He got another cookie. And then another typewritten page, this time with some insights:
1) Tony Stewart cannot win every race.
2) My Mom did not want to go to the mall with me. It is very hard for her to wach me to keep out of trouble. I get into things, I do not listen to her, I stare at girls.
3) Toys are meant for children or kids who are young and small. My Mom is not comfortable with me buying toys because I am an adult.
4) When I am angry, my Mom likes me to go to my room. When I am in my room, I cannot break things and cannot hurt her. I am safe and Mom is safe.
5) I cannot watch TV always when I want and what I want. I lost that privilege when I ordered the inappropriate movies. My Mom had to pay for them.
6) Sometimes I cannot go to my Dad’s when he wants because I already have something on my schedule on that day.
I’m sure you noticed this is written in the first person. Eric understands it much better that way. Gail will sometimes also address him in the third person. For example, she might say to him, “Eric knows what he is supposed to do.” Don’t ask me why, but he seems to respond to that.
And finally, after another cookie for his cooperation with all this, he got the last typewritten sheet:
What can I do when I am angry
1) Figure out why I am angry
2) Talk about it with my Mom and my Mom will help me
3) Do something to calm myself.
He circled 2 and 3. She asked him to write down a few things he could do to calm himself. In his chicken scratch, he scribbled:
Chair (the massage chair we have for this very purpose)
I’m talking about my learning. I’m not at all certain Eric has the mental machinery to retain this information or to behave better next time. But there is a lot of wisdom here I can use for myself.
That’s my Princess! I married up!