I’m not keeping quite to the theme of the blog, but I know there are at least some of you out there who can relate. And for those of you still pregnant, remember this and know infertility not only does not make you a perfect parent, it does not oblige you be one either.
Why yes, that is my child. Yes, the one whining or not listening, or just being completely obnoxious. Yes, that’s me, the bad mother, trailing behind, not hitting, giving a time out, or whatever punishment du jour you think I should be handing out.
I saw those kids and those moms before I had kids. The little brat causing a ruckus, and the complacent mom. Obviously, his behavior is his mom’s fault. Obviously, if she were more engaged in discipline, he would be a perfect gentleman. Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret – maybe the child’s behavior caused his mother’s inaction, not the other way around. Maybe mom is trailing behind, the glazed over look on her face, because nothing she can do will work, and she’s too exhausted to try anyway. She knows waiting it out may be the most expedient end to the outburst.
One of my favorite shows of all time is The West Wing. President Bartlett used a Latin expression, which he translated as “if then, therefore, because”. It’s what my college psych professor meant when he said, “correlation does not equal causation”.
My son has autism spectrum disorder. The high-functioning, highly verbal kind, or as some would say, the fake kind. As a good mother, I would describe his behavior as challenging. As the bad mother that I am, I’ll be honest and say that much of the time, he’s a little bastard. His frustration tipping point is somewhere around the love child of John McEnroe and Naomi Campbell. Sometimes it’s because he doesn’t get his way immediately. Sometimes it’s because his sister walked next to him. Sometimes he will whine and scream over the most ridiculous minor event that happened three years ago.
Sunday was one of those days, and as a bad mother, I’ll admit that it was totally my fault. I made the mistake of scheduling 2 events on the same day. Evan doesn’t quite know he’s autistic, so when you ask him if he wants to do something entertaining, the 7 year old is not going to say, “Gee, that sounds really fun, but I think I should pace myself”. So Saturday, we went to a Halloween parade with trick or treating during the day, then a cub scouts event in the evening. Sunday was OK for a while – he played video games, rode his bike, and played outside. Then he spent hours crying about nothing that could be fixed. It started when one of the other kids at cub scouts (who may also be autistic), through the goodness of his heart told Evan they were both different and he was glad they were friends. When my husband told me about it, Evan got upset because he didn’t want me to know. Then he started crying that he didn’t want to be different. We tried the whole speech about how everyone is different, everyone is good at some things and not at others, etc. Consolation was not to be had. We eventually moved on. The rest of the afternoon was spent crying and tantruming about whatever came to mind: he was bored, he wanted to watch the Mario Bros TV show (which we didn’t have), and the big one was that the house did not look spooky enough for Halloween.
Evan’s favorite ride on our last trip to Disney was The Haunted Mansion. As some of you know, when kids on the spectrum like something, they REALLY like it. Evan could spend hours just listening to the soundtrack from the ride. When I don’t have the Mario theme repeating in my head, I hear “Grim grinning ghosts come out to socialize”. He’s been asking for a while to make our house haunted for Halloween. I bought some “mummy” lights, but he thought they looked like gingerbread men and weren’t spooky enough. We tried making ghosts, but the perfectionist in him didn’t like the way they turned out. So we spent the better part of Sunday afternoon listening to him be miserable with no way of helping him. No distraction or comfort could stop him.
So today, at the store, I did what any behavioral therapist would tell me not do – I bought more “spooky” decorations. Yes, I rewarded the tantruming and whining. I knew I was doing it when I pulled out my American Express card. I thought about leaving the decorations behind at the store. Won’t he learn that his extreme behavior will get him his way? Shouldn’t he learn that life isn’t fair? Shouldn’t he learn to appreciate the decorations he has and be grateful? Yes, he should. I always said I would raise my hypothetical children that way. Well, here’s the thing. Life is unfair, and life is going to prove that to Evan over and over again. Every time he struggles to participate in activities that come easy to other kids; every time he gets made fun of; every time he misses out because he’s had enough. So he gets a haunted house. If he grows up to be a complete menace to society, you can all say it’s because his mother bought him light up pumpkins and scary skeleton decorations when he was 7.
So yes, that’s me trailing behind the obnoxious kid. Yes, I have tried time outs. Yes, I have tried ignoring, punishing, rewarding, etc. Yes, I’ve tried to discipline the autism out of him, but it’s still there. I’m not punishing him because it doesn’t work. I’m not doing anything because I don’t know how to help him, and I’m tired of watching my child suffer. I’m not silencing him because his tantrum may be the only way he has of communicating. And yes, stranger in the mall, I’m sure you could do better than the mother who’s read countless books, made reward charts, visual schedules, consulted doctors and behaviorists, and still gets bruises from some of his worse tantrums. But sorry, my son has a bad mother, and I guess you’ll have to find a way to live with that.