Sunday, January 10, 2016

Making Choices

Last week we encountered a situation where at first we thought Alex was having a setback, but after some analysis, we realized that he was actually showing signs of progress. On Tuesday while working with his behavioral therapist, he became agitated, and we tried to get to the root of his anxiety by asking him questions. This seemed to aggravate him more, as he became increasingly obsessive about what he was going to do on Thursday evening. Probably trying to escape the probing questions of two concerned females, he kept leaving the room and had to be coaxed back so that we could figure out his problem to help ease his clearly troubled mind. All the various calming techniques we’ve taught him didn’t seem to be working, and he was frustrated.

Finally, I resorted to my English teacher mode and helped Alex break down the internal conflicts that seemed to be troubling him. While he was looking forward to Thursday evening, he realized that he had two choices that really appealed to him: watching the new season of American Idol on television or going to a Valparaiso University women’s basketball game. Even though he was eagerly anticipating both events, that created conflict for him because he could not do both at the same time. He had to make a decision between two equally appealing options.

Of course, I thought I had the ideal solution: we could tape American Idol while we were at the basketball game, and he could watch the recorded show later. However, my suggestion didn’t seem to solve the dilemma because he then became upset about when he would be able to watch the taped show. It would be too late to watch it Thursday evening after the game, and he didn’t want to wait until Friday. He found himself in one of those situations where he was simply going to have to make a decision, and he didn’t like it.

While I was concerned that his increased anxiety and OCD over a fairly simple problem indicated a setback, I realized that we had put him in a new situation. For many years, we rarely took Alex places because he became overwhelmed and didn’t behave appropriately. In the past few years, he has learned to deal with sensory overload and has developed appropriate coping and social skills so that he can go to restaurants and concerts and sporting events. Being able to go to a college basketball game has become an option for him in the past year, something that wasn’t on the table before.

In addition, we rarely asked Alex to make decisions. Ed and I made choices for him in his best interests, and he went along with our judgments, trusting us. We chose for him because he was too immature to weigh his options and because he never really seemed to have opinions on some things. When we did offer options, he would earnestly ask, “Which would be good?” If we told him both choices were good, he would sometimes become agitated and demand to know what the better choice was. To avoid a meltdown, we just avoided the choices issue by telling him what we were going to do.

As Alex has matured and made progress in his ability to cope with a variety of situations, we have encouraged him to think for himself, which has meant that he has had to consider the pros and cons and to make decisions. For example, we give him two choices of restaurants on Saturday evenings, and he usually can easily decide the one where he wants to eat. Occasionally, he will revert to his, “Which one would be good?” question, and we then guide him to ask one of us which restaurant we would like, teaching him the courtesy of allowing another person to get his or her choice.

Throughout his life, Ed and I have structured Alex’s days so that he has the routine he craves, and now we know that we must allow him the freedom to make his own decisions. This newly found freedom was the source of his anxiety on Tuesday. However, with the guidance of his behavioral therapist and me, he was finally able to calm down, weigh his options, and make a decision. He wanted to forgo the basketball game, stay home, and watch American Idol. After all, as he reminded us, there was another basketball game scheduled for Saturday afternoon, and we could go to that one.

As I watched American Idol with him on Thursday evening, he clearly had made the right decision because he was enthralled watching the contestants sing and even singing along to familiar songs. His choice was further confirmed after we found out that our basketball team had lost Thursday night. Moreover, he thoroughly enjoyed yesterday’s basketball game, which our team won handily. In fact, he probably enjoyed the game even more since it was the only one he attended this week, making it more special for him.

Yesterday afternoon, he came to me with another decision to make as he discovered that next month the last V.U. men’s basketball home game is scheduled at the same time as the Daytona 500 race that kicks off the NASCAR season. This time, I reigned in my micromanaging mother tendencies and allowed him to weigh his options without insisting that he tape one sports event or the other. I simply told him that I would be staying home to watch the race and that his dad would be going to the basketball game; he could do whatever he wanted. After thinking for a few minutes, he calmly decided that he wanted to watch the NASCAR race. Even though he seemed content with the decision he had made on his own, I reminded him if he changed his mind in the meantime, that would be fine. However, I’m betting that he sticks with his decision.

As parents, we want our children to be independent and make their own decisions. However, we may forget how hard it can be for our children to make those choices at first because we have always either told them what to do or guided them when they did need to choose. Because it has taken longer for Alex to begin his independence, we are just now seeing the struggle of breaking away from us so that he can enjoy the freedom of being a young man while also accepting the responsibilities of the choices he makes on his own. Although his choices this week between a television show and a basketball game were not terribly important, they gave him practice for more pressing decisions in life. Now we just have to step back and let him begin to take control so that he can become all that he is capable of becoming, and we know that God will guide him along the way.

“You will succeed in whatever you choose to do, and light will shine on the road ahead of you.” Job 22:28

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