Sunday, May 4, 2014

May Days

Poet T.S. Eliot once wrote, “April is the cruellest [sic] month,” but I’d have to go with May instead. For teachers like me, the last month of school involves giving standardized tests and trying madly to finish teaching curriculum to students whose minds have understandably drifted to imminent summer vacation. With the stress of trying to accomplish too much in not enough time, colleagues become annoyed with those who don’t pull their share, don’t follow the rules, and don’t seem to care. Knowing that Alex is very attuned to my emotions, I try to keep any frustrations from work hidden from him, but I suspect that he senses my agitation at times. Also, every spring he seems to be a bit off, probably due to pollen in the air and atmospheric changes that occur in late spring. Needless to say, May brings challenges to both of us.

This week, the first of the month of May, Alex has been a little off. Although he doesn’t complain of any physical symptoms or show any signs of illness, he has been somewhat lethargic, preferring reclining to recreation. Usually when I offer to take him grocery shopping with me, he leaps up, ready to go because he likes going to the store. However, this week when I have suggested that we go shopping, he has suggested instead, “Daddy can go.” While I’d like to think that Alex is concerned about my doing too much and trying to shift some responsibility to Ed, I think he just prefers to stay home this week.  If, indeed, pollen is an issue, he is showing wisdom to stay indoors to avoid exposure to things in the air that bother him.

Despite not being one hundred percent, he had terrific sessions with his therapists this week. On Tuesday, his behavioral therapist heartily praised his work, saying he had a “wonderful” session, and on Thursday, his music therapist also told me that he had done very well. Nonetheless, Alex didn’t want to go anyplace this week and made excuses for not going whenever suggestions were made about going places. Yet, he seemed to be in a fairly good mood most of the time and revealed progress in unusual ways. One day, he kiddingly told Ed something implausible, and when Ed asked him if he was joking, Alex responded, “No, that’s hyperbole!” (This is what happens to children of English teachers; they use a literary term for exaggeration.) This week he also suddenly mastered using the toilet standing up instead of sitting, as he has insisted upon for all these years, and he seemed quite proud of himself for this accomplishment. Since he has been doing so well in various areas lately, we didn’t give his reluctance to go places much thought.

On Friday, we were to meet his behavioral therapist at Target, one of his favorite places to shop. After a quick lunch at the Target Café, we planned to walk around the store so that he could shop and practice his social skills at the same time. These weekly outings have been quite helpful to his development of practical skills and applying what he has learned during therapy sessions. As we ate lunch, Alex didn’t seem as enthusiastic about eating as he usually is, and he didn’t seem as excited about shopping at Target as he normally is. Nonetheless, he half-heartedly went along with the plans. When we decided to look for birthday cards for his cousins, our plans were deterred a bit because we found a woman had parked her shopping cart in the middle of the aisle and seemed oblivious that she was needlessly blocking the path. When Alex’s therapist sweetly said, “Excuse me,” the woman glared and barely moved her cart. As I could feel my annoyance rising, I fought my desire to tell her that she could benefit from learning some of the social skills my kid with autism practiced. Whether Alex picked up on my irritation or felt his own with the rude woman, he began to set his jaw in a way that I recognized as a signal he had had enough.

As I asked him what was wrong and tried to remove him from the aisle quickly, he told me that he was tired of waiting and flung his hand toward me. Putting to use my limited tae kwon do skills, I blocked his hand so that he didn’t make contact with me. Unfortunately, I didn’t grab his other hand in time, and he scratched his therapist in a rapid movement of frustration. Taking him by the arm, I quickly found a place where he could sit and calm down, and he cooperated with his therapist and me by following our directions. Fortunately, he de-escalated very quickly and apologized; unfortunately, his unacceptable behavior would have to be reported for his files. For all the weeks his behavior has been excellent, I knew that one moment would sadly mar his record of good behavior. As Ed noted in an analogy to the game Chutes and Ladders, for all the ladders Alex has been climbing with good choices and good progress, he had fallen down a chute in one moment of upset. Whether it was pollen, picking up on my work stress, or the annoyance with a rude shopper, Alex reacted in a socially unacceptable manner for one moment.

Thankfully, his therapist reacted with understanding and compassion, and she focused upon the positive aspects of Alex’s compliance immediately after the incident and his ability to calm down quickly. Having dealt with much longer and much more aggressive meltdowns with Alex in the past, I knew that this showed how far he has come. Also, his therapist noted that his behavior not only revealed progress in dealing with issues but also the clear need for continued therapy so that Alex doesn’t react in negative ways when he becomes overwhelmed. While he and I both felt bad about what had happened, she assured us that she was fine and that she understood he is still learning how to cope in a variety of situations.

Last night, Alex suddenly said to me, “I was worried.” Because he rarely initiates discussions about his feelings, I was surprised by this out-of-the-blue admission. Moreover, his issues with language make expressing himself rather difficult, especially when he is upset or when he is talking about abstract ideas. Although I wanted to press him to find out what was bothering him, I somehow sensed that he had told me all he could, and I respected his confession on its face value. As I tried to reassure him and explain that he needed to use his words to tell us when he is worried instead of using his hands, he seemed to understand. Maybe he’s ready to climb some more ladders this week; I hope so.

“Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about you.” I Peter 5:7

No comments: