One of the more personal and unique issues we have with Xan is discipline. Perhaps with "normal" kids, it can be an easier call - you can take it on faith that the child understood the instruction they chose not to do, disobey, ignore, whatever because you know they could comprehend what they were told, were able to hear it, were able to put the ideas behind it together and had the ability and chance to follow them. With many autistic kids, and especially with Xan, it's harder to just know that they made a choice to disobey.
A couple of weeks ago we tried an experiment. We're not what you call a first-adapter kind of family, so oftentimes we end up getting some kind of new toy like an Ipod at the end of its life cycle. We tend to keep these things for a while, so we have a few odds and ends around the house. So now Tracy and I have our own personal toys and decided to pass the Ipod to Xan. Took the time to update it, get a new power cord, rearrange the icons and delete stuff he wouldn't be interested in and add more we thought he would be - we're talking a good three days straight work here.
Gave it to him with strict instructions on when and where he could use it, and the first day went fine - perhaps because we were always watching him. The next day, I was feeling miserable and went to grab a nap. Tracy came back after a couple of hours, woke me up, talked to me for a few minutes, went back to the living room. Total time gone, maybe five minutes. Xander was no longer where he was supposed to be and the Ipod had vanished.
Spread your hand out wide, like you're about to try to take the lid off a big tough jar. The Ipod is narrower than that. Our living room is nowhere near pristine, with stacks of books and papers and toys and cats and games everywhere. Finding that Ipod was like finding a piece of hay in a stack of needles.
Accidents happen, of course, and that loss wasn't at first a problem. I mean, if I found everything I had ever lost I'd need a new house. But Xan wouldn't help us look at all. Perhaps he didn't understand it, who knows, but after much requests demands and orders to help us (all of which were equally effective, like a stick of butter against a flamethrower) were ignored much of his fun stuff was taken away, like TV shows, CD picks and going to his room - more than this little outlier in a second. We did this to emphasize that while accidents happen you have a responsibility to help fix the accident, an attitude which he seems to not be in agreement with, and telling him that if we couldn't trust him to help us out we had to make sure he didn't do anything wrong we had to fix. This lasted for a week,
So yesterday, both from expiration of punishment time and just a want to start stuff over, I was very nice to him. Let him have TV, pick his songs, even got some Chick-Fil-A on the way home. (Which, I have to admit, wasn't entirely altruistic on my part. That feeling miserable from before never really went away and the doctor said I was trying, once again, to catch pneumonia. So an easy meal was very welcome.) We even let him head to his room, which we had forbidden on the general theme of 'we can't trust you here.' He has a habit of going into our room and flopping on our bed, which isn't a huge deal, but it does pull the mattress off the bed and he never even tries to fix it. And we had forbidden it several times.
Well, he wanted to go to his room and I said, very specifically, very clearly, making him repeat it: No going to mommy and daddy's room, no jumping on the bed. None. Okay. He goes, he runs back in, a few times. No big deal. I check our room and the bed's messed up - not bad, perhaps just from the cats or a bad making up - maybe. Still feel bad, don't want to push it, so I tell him again and shut the door so the next time there will be no doubt.
Yep. Walk back again, door wide open, and he's jumping on the bed.
This was much more depressing than perhaps you can imagine. I believe I've said it before, but the most frustrating thing with Xan is the near complete lack of communication in a give-and-take sense. I don't know what he's feeling, why he does some things, why he likes what he does and why he hates what he does. I have to guess and take stabs in the dark about my son much more than I like. In many ways, Xan is more mysterious and unknown to me than my cats are. (Of course, the wants and needs of cats are pretty easy - worship me, feed me, clean my catbox and pet me when I feel like it.) Even worse, since the areas he is able to communicate tend to be demands for things he wants, very often our verbal relationship is as personal as the one with the last waiter you had at Cracker Barrel. And I don't get tips of any kind.
And with the always present doubts I have about whether or not I'm doing the right thing in almost all parenting decision, the lack of feedback can be a large weight. Such as this latest act of disobedience - was it? Was there something I missed that made him unable to understand what I told him? Or was it the Pandora's Box attraction of it - the ONE THING I say don't do. I don't know, I won't know and I can't know.
Which led me into what if he really didn't understand - will this be the way he is always? 'cause that would be a pretty severe limit in what he could do outside the house. I know he's a genius, his grades and how well he can function shows me that, but what if this genius of his just doesn't cover instructions? Or more specifically my instructions? And what if all the troubles he has isn't resistance but he can't do them? The old what-if game where every throw is craps, every space is GO TO JAIL, and every ladder goes straight to the bottom.
(Something tells me if mom was alive or if dad reads this blog they would be quick to mention the countless number of times I did stuff like this as evidence of the free choice option here. So maybe it's another nice little genetic gift of revenge from my parents, fulfilling the curse 'I hope your kids...' which would be the best news I could get)
I don't know what's going on here, and I say that a lot.
As much as I wish I knew if he understood me, I wish so much more I could understand him and bridge some of this chasm we have.