J and his classmates went to the movies yesterday; these outings serve the purpose of integrating them to the community and boosting their social skills. It was an absolute success. I wasn’t there, no, but since I didn’t get any phone calls and there are no local or national headlines regarding said outing, I know it wasn’t a colossal disaster. According to his “book,” J had popcorn and drank a soda.
And then the battle of wills began…
Our son is junkie. Like Buddy the Elf, he loves sugar…you know: “candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup.” Popeye gets his strength from spinach; J gets his kicks from Coca Cola. Years ago he returned from his one summer-long visit to his paternal family with such an addiction to Seven-Up that we lived with constant tantrums until we weaned him. My ex-mother in-law drinks only Seven-Up, and she considers this beverage so sacred that she won’t share…so J was provided with a rather unhealthy, exclusive stream of Seven-Up purchased just for him. That was about the only liquid they would give him to drink because it kept him quiet. I have no experience with withdrawal symptoms other than watching my then four year-old son wanting to suck soda from the carpeting. Let’s call that the first behavioral crisis we ever experienced and overcame, shall we?
Over the years we’ve had to deal with different degrees of obsessive behavior on his part. For the record, the OCD gene he gets from my puddle in the gene pool. It’s a chicken-egg thing: did the Autism make me aware of issues in my family tree or if the family tree prepare me for the Autism?
J’s sugar addiction wasn’t the first obsession that nearly overwhelmed us. There was a time when we couldn’t wear watches; timepieces hung on walls or rested on tables, but watches were verboten. We lost so many watches (cheap ones, nice ones) to J’s obsessive dislike of them that we ended up not wearing them at all. A great deal of patience and determination on our part has resulted in J tolerating watches being worn when we leave the house, but he makes darned sure we’ve removed and stored them as soon as we clear the foyer. The same goes, by the way, for any earrings or bracelets I’m wearing. No trying to look like June Cleaver when Ward gets home for me…
How do we work through the obsessions? We’ve learned not to be afraid of our son. I think, to a certain extent, every parent is somewhat fueled by fear. We’re afraid we’ll “make a mistake,” “traumatize our child,” “be too indulgent,” “be too strict,” and so forth. We’d become afraid of the tantrums and thought they’d get worse. The tug of war wasn’t something we looked forward to because it scared us, because it seemed like a crapload of work. Well: it IS a crapload of work…no getting around that!
We know we’re headed for an extraordinary battle of wills when J is willing to be repetitive and persistent. It is, in a nutshell, his will against ours. Like the good little strategist he’s become over time, J will wait us out, wear us out, psyche us out. He is, as I’ve said before, autistic, not stupid.
I’m going to admit I’m not a particularly patient person. Whatever degree of patience I’m capable of exhibiting has been toiled for proactively. I have been forced to be patient by the circumstances of our lives. From this one fact stems my firm belief that God has a kick-ass sense of humor, and LOVES to exercise the funny bone as often as possible. How else could we justify J’s repetition of the word “soda” almost constantly over the course of an hour while I, also constantly, respond with the word “no?” I can almost guarantee that God, saints, angels and other celestial cohorts have made a drinking game out of this… Not trying to be disrespectful here, just saying God loves us in the way that parents should love their children: wanting what’s best for them, taking care of them, but still thinking they’re kinda funny and entertaining.
So, little by little, (and not making a drinking game out of it) we weaned J from the gallons of soda he’d learned to crave. This had another positive outcome: we learned to say NO without cringing.
Indeed, we used to cringe while saying NO. We’d brace ourselves hoping the meltdown would be of non-nuclear proportions. Remember the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when they open the ark and all hell breaks loose? There’s a frame where the face of a beautiful woman transforms into a horrible specter…that was J! And, yes, we would say “whatever you do, don’t look!” like Indy tells Marion Ravenwood.
Here are the Rules of Engagement:
1) Say NO, firmly but without venom in your voice (that might creep in later, when you’ve said it 2000 times, but you can’t start off that way);
2) Explain why you’re saying NO, even if you think the kid doesn’t understand what you’re saying;
3) Buy a Time Timer (you can get these from www.difflearn.com. There are several sizes and they even sell stickers that you can use to time tasks;
4) Let your kid set the time; at first they’ll do five minutes (of course! Wouldn’t you?,) but then they’ll start negotiating time with you; and, last, but not least…
5) Remember that regardless of how frustrated and angry you feel, you’ll eventually benefit from this battle of wills you’re waging.
J has learned that his insistence (and, believe me, J is insistent to the point where he even annoys himself) WON’T make me acquiesce; I will only become more determined to say NO. Yesterday he wanted a soda when he got home and he asked, very politely, I WANT TIME SODA PLEASE while pointing at his timer. I said NO and read his comm book out loud; it stated quite clearly that he’d had a small soda at the movies. J insisted, and so did I. Stomping was involved (in both directions: he stomped upstairs and I downstairs.) Who won?
I’ll just tell you this much: we DO NOT negotiate with tantrum-throwers, but we DO negotiate with young men who politely wait and ask for things in the proper manner.
And I’m really glad sodas now come in those smaller bottles…