I Don’t Like You

My oldest boy L has autism, an intellectual and a visual impairment. He’s 6 now, but when he was about 3, he started pushing, scratching and pinching others. Sometimes it was because they got in his way, took his current object of desire from him or that curly girly hair was just calling out to be yanked. Other times it was an attempt to connect with another child or adult and sometimes it was just for attention. Well it has certainly gotten him a lot of attention over the years!

Way back when it all started, I called on the experts. How could we head this behaviour off at the pass? I was told to give him a positive statement of what to DO as opposed to a negative statement of what NOT to do. ‘Hands down’ was the statement that was selected as most appropriate at the time. This, along with diversion, sensory input & breaks, environment management etc, etc, etc. It’s been an ongoing challenge. One that has got the better of me at times. It’s pretty hard not to react when he’s gone to scratch a baby or shoved some random toddler over at the playground.

Like most autism parents I’ve gotten pretty good at dealing with the dirty looks, the comments, making a quick apology on his behalf and depending on the situation, giving a short explanation for his behaviour – sometimes to the parents but always to the kids.

Little kids are generally very accepting of difference. They don’t really care if another kid is screaming or flicking a ribbon or not using words or doing funny body movements. Sometimes they ask questions but once answered, they just get on with the job of playing.

For younger siblings though, its different. They live with autism just like you do, but they don’t have the understanding or reasoning that help them to negotiate their way through the complexities of neurodiversity. Over time, these sibling relationships grow to become the incredible heart-fueling relationships that can keep our autistic children connected to the world and to people from their own age group. Like this delightful pair of brothers in this short film that I came across recently.

Meanwhile back in my current reality, 3yo (N) is just getting to that point where he is asking questions about his older foster brother. We go to a ASD playgroup on a Saturday morning and he calls it the Pinchy Playgroup even though no one else who attends is a ‘pinchy boy’ like our L is.

Fair enough too. He has been on the receiving end of quite a bit few pinches over the years. He’s been pushed, had his hair pulled, been scratched as well as being pinched. He is one of the most important people in L’s life, but recently he has had enough. He’s saying things you don’t want to hear and asking difficult questions that are hard to answer.

The ‘I don’t like him’ statement has been coming out more and more frequently in recent weeks. ‘L doesn’t love me’ is another one I’ve been hearing. It’s complex and I’m trying to explain it to a 3 year old, so I try to keep is simple.  Me: Are you good at talking? N: Yes. Me: Is L good at talking? N: No. Me: L loves you very, very much but it’s hard for him to tell you that in words. He shows you by sitting next to you, copying the things you are doing and playing with you.  There’s a lot more that we discuss, but that is the general gist of it.

With N’s birthday coming up he’s been so excited about choosing a cake and inviting friends, practising singing the birthday song, telling people how old he will be turning. Today I heard him talking directly to L – something he doesn’t usually do a lot of. But he crouched down, looking for a connection and said ‘do you want to come to my birthday party L? It’s going to be lots of fun!’

So maybe he likes him after all.

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14 thoughts on “I Don’t Like You

  1. Dear LMTF, I enjoyed reading this post. My older brother is autistic, profoundly retarded and non-verbal, as you may have seen from my blog (thanks for reading, btw). It was such a long time ago for me. I grew up in the US in the 1950s. I always wanted to help, to communicate and to make things better. Never did get better, but I have a great sensitivity to those who are unable to do for themselves and a great respect for those who care for them. Good blogging! Is it ok for me to post a link to your blog on mine?

    best,

    Jack

  2. Hi,
    Great post.

    But, I only like to pick at two little points or maybe better picking at one point with two arguments.

    Although the other commenters more or less point out that the post is more on the brother thing, I got just an other detail out of your story but that has probably to do with my own autism 🙂

    The positive way to handle the pinching is the thing that stands out for me, yes trying to learn things with a positive impulse is something that works and builds confidence and makes him feel better abouth him self, specially in the long run, but at what costs?
    Your or someone else’s well being?

    So I fully agree whith that way of handling things as long as you keep in mind if the investment is in balance to the result (and try to be just a little objective when making up the balance and not be to much a mom 😉 )

    There is however a negative side to the positive enforcement way, it does not, or at least I think it does not enough, encount for a slight autistic issue and that is the disability to connect cause and effect the right way

    For example if I do A and that is the wrong or unwanted behavior and you want to use B to solve the issue.
    Now the positive way is not to tell me not to do A because it is wrong, but when I am in a situation where I used to do A I should use B
    As I understand this works in the non autistic world perfectly becaus you guys understand automatically that you should not use A and guess what? I don’t.
    For me it is just that you offered me another way to solve it so now I can use them both next to each other, at first I will experiment with the new way, so looking at my behavior you could think that I did it right the way you want and stopped using A altogether, but this is not the case I am just trying the new thing out until I know what it does and more important to me how reliable it is, and behold after a while I start using both or fall back to A because B just does not work for me.

    So when using the method always include the part that tells me that A is off limits and I am no longer alowed to use it, this will pose some hard thinking on how to do that and keeping true to the positive aproche method, some times this will proof not to be possible and that is when you have to make the disision are the benefits and costs in balance

    Another thing is that he probably has no idea that pinching is actually hurting people a lot, he likely tried pinching himself once or twice and that is his only reference when you point out to him that it is wrong because it hurts.
    But when you pinch your self it never hurts as much as when someone else does it, because you pinch less hard or are prepared for it, just like tickeling yourself it just does not work, you will be inclined to say that he has been pinched by others so he should know this, but guess again I myself would not connect being pinched at a random moment with me pinching someone to get his/her attention for it is a totally different thing.

    So if you want him to understand what he is doing you may have to do something that is considered despicable but I know it works or at least it does with me and as long as I know/understand it is because you want to learn me something and not because you are mean, I will not hold it against you I simply store it away as a new thing learned, and the thing I am talking about is of course pinching him back, but with an explanation so when he pinches you ask him if he understands that it hurts and if he wants to feel it too?
    This way he learns what pain he does to someone and I promise that it will take a few times before the connection is made permanent and as I understand I will hurt you even more.

    Yes I understand that there will be people that are really angry with me saying something like this, but please remember I have autism myself and look on it from my perspective only and don’t have the emotional way of aprocing this as you have and I myself would accept this to happen to me with out being damaged by it (my parents acutely did it this way without knowing I had autism and a long time ago (I am 41 now) not with pinching but with stomping and I am thankfull for it, because I stopped doing it before I came across someone who could have reacted badly and would have really hurt me, this is something I understand now and maybe not back then but I had no resentment against them for doing it to me back then, I was way to eager to learn these kind of things)

    I hope you have some use for this comment and please keep sharing like you do.

    • Thanks for your comment Robin. I do appreciate your perspective as it gives me some insight – so please feel free to comment as you have here. Of course in this post I have given a very short version of the ways in which this behaviour has been approached. As I said – sometimes it has incredibly difficult, especially because there seemed to be so many motivators – different in every circumstance. He has settled down a lot in the recent months, but still managed to give his smallest brother a very nasty set of scratches on his cheek just last week. He knows that it’s not allowed, but still he seems compelled at times. He is such a tactile boy – always seeking sensory input from one source or another. I agree with you that he doesn’t understand that it hurts others, only that they react in a big way – so that is very stimulating to him 🙂 As he is growing he is showing more maturity and self control – amazing to see!! His frustrations are decreasing as his language skills are developing and that is a truly wonderful thing. Thanks again!!

  3. Oh man … The siblings. That relationship can be the toughest and the most beautiful all in the same minute. As parents, we want the best for all our children and sometimes that desire clashes with itself. Then we turn around and witness something truly amazing and we realize that they’re lucky to have each other.

    • Exactly! It’s a delicate balance isn’t it? My younger boys have had to deal with a lot of confusing and sometimes aggressive behaviour but when I see the three of them playing some funny little made up game with no rules and they are just loving the interaction – it’s just a very beautiful moment. I don’t doubt for a second that the NT brothers will become better, more compassionate and accepting humans because of their autistic brother.

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