Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Band-aids for the Heart

That's what I'm in need of right now. My heart kind of feels like a windshield that has a little ding, a place where a tiny rock bounced up, left its mark, and now the glass is slowly shattering around it. The relationship between my kids has been precarious the past few days, and oh, is it weighing on my mind.

We've studied Anderson closely over the past four years, learned all of his idiosyncrasies. He's definitely an enigma, but one thing I am certain of is that he learns how to make sense of the world, of social situations through role-playing. When he started attending daycare, he would come home and act out scenes from his day, pretending to be the teacher in a variety of situations (most of which included someone getting into trouble). He can emulate voices and expressions with an amazing degree of precision. He doesn't always understand the context of the situations, but we help him by asking certain questions and then reacting in the situationally-appropriate way and having conversations about it. Usually, we ask him who he's pretending to be and who he's talking to, and then we talk about it and provide as much explanation as possible. Sometimes, he gets it right away. Sometimes, it takes many, many repetitions. Sometimes, I don't think he ever really understands the scenario that he is reenacting.

A few days ago, Anderson and Amelia were playing in the living room after dinner.  They weren't really playing TOGETHER, but more parallel. They were both chattering away while I sat at the kitchen table, only half-listening to them.  Anderson looked in my direction, got his "role-playing" face on, and said in a super whiny voice, "Amelia is not being very nice!"  My ears perked up to what was going on and I made eye contact with Amelia, who was clearly bewildered by this accusation.  She wasn't even engaging him at all. She vehemently denied it, all wide-eyed and troubled by the indignity of the lie. In a calm voice, I said, "Anderson, she's not bothering you.." to which he quickly replied that she definitely was.  There was a pause, a distinct moment where I was acutely aware that something was about to happen. Then, Anderson took the toy that was in his hand, and hit Amelia. He hit her right in the face. She stumbled backward, startled, and began to cry. I reacted as just about any parent would, saying his name loudly, jumping up from my seat to comfort Amelia and confront Anderson.

The few seconds afterward are a blur to me. It was one of those situations where everything seems to move in slow motion.  But the one thing that I was very, very aware of was the look on Anderson's face.  The look on his face wasn't remorseful. It wasn't vindictive, or spiteful, or mean. It wasn't scared, or happy. It wasn't ANYTHING.  He absolutely didn't understand--or at least fully understand--what he had done wrong, or why it was wrong.  I didn't take time to process this fully before addressing him, and I'm not sure whether it would have made a difference or not.  When he recognized that I was very, very upset with him, he turned and ran. I picked up Amelia, followed him into her room.  I grabbed his wrist, turned him around, and sat him down on the floor. Amelia and I sat across from him. I made him look at me and reiterated over and over that we do NOT hit.  That it hurts when we hit, and that we never, never intentionally hurt other people. That Amelia is his sister and that he must show her love. He immediately melted into tears--hot, confused tears.  His first reaction to my anger was to try to hit her again--which was significantly less surprising than the initial blow.  At this point, he was reacting to her in a way that showed he recognized that she was the reason for his being in trouble--which was his only real awareness of the situation. I firmly told him NO, that he would NOT hit her, and he stopped. I told him he needed to apologize to Amelia. As most kids his age, he was resistant at first, but soon resigned himself to the fact that it was a non-negotiable, and he looked her in the eye and apologized. We ended the moment with high-fives all around, and I left him there to cool off.

Amelia followed me out into the living area and sat down on the couch, content to pick up where she left off in her playing.  Anderson hung out in the bedroom for awhile before solemnly emerging. I kept my distance but had my eye on the situation, curious to see what would happen next. As Anderson slowly walked into the room, Amelia looked up, noticed, and quietly said, "Sorry, Bubs." Oh, my heart. My little sensitive love. She was the victim of the random act of violence, and yet she was feeling bad for him, for how upset he had been. She took the blame upon herself for that. She is so emotionally in tune with the world around her, and she simply cannot stand to see people hurting. My girl.

Now, please don't misunderstand. I totally recognize that siblings are going to fight. I know that this won't be the last time one of them knocks the other silly. I expect it.  That's not the source of my sadness. My heart is hurting for the situation behind the blow. You see, Amelia didn't do anything to make him angry. She didn't take a toy, hit him first, do something annoying. He was reenacting something he had seen at some point, and he had no comprehension of the repercussions.  No understanding of the cause-and-effect. THAT is what hurts. I've worked with students in the past who have no concept of cause-and-effect, and those are the ones that I've worried about the most. They act without thinking, do things that are dangerous because they don't understand consequences. It's a scary possibility.

I think that most parents of children who are diagnosed with autism worry about the possibility of their child becoming violent.  Anderson has always been so passive...he has never once hit another child at daycare or preschool, only occasionally pushed Amelia, but usually to try to get to a toy or something else that he wanted. To witness him intentionally hurting her was just very tough, and of course it led me down the trail of "what-ifs", thinking about his future and oh gosh, what if he did that to another child at school? Just another thought that is now lingering in the back of my mind where I keep all of my little worries stored, boring holes into my inner peace.

And then there's Amelia.  Since the incident, she's been cautious around Anderson, treading lightly and quick to tattle if he begins to act upset.  She's a bit scared, and rightfully so, after the unprovoked hit.  But it breaks my heart. It hurts me that she's nervous around her own brother, and it hurts me that she has reason to be worried. It hurts that ANYONE would be scared of my sweet, blonde, blue-eyed love.  She's told me that she doesn't like it when he yells, and today she came and told me she wasn't going to play with him because he screamed.  He's testing his boundaries as a "bad kid" the only way he knows how--by role playing--and she's the unfortunate partner in his little play of life. 

The day after the incident, I ran into his teacher in the hallway as I was picking them up. I told her the whole thing--and she knows him well enough to know how he acts out what he sees (he does phenomenal impressions of her, which she's seen and loves). I was only sharing with her to ask her if he'd done anything like that at school, and to warn her to be on the look-out, that I wanted to know if he even hinted at hitting someone. She quickly took me aside and had me talk with her and an administrator; it seems that another child in his class has been having some behavior issues that sound very similar to what he's acting out at home. This makes complete sense, knowing him. Just unfortunate.  I'm not in the least upset, and don't want anything "done" at preschool. He is going to have to learn to navigate classrooms and situations with other kids where someone is doing something inappropriate. He's going to have to learn that just because someone else does something, he can't automatically do it, too. He just has to learn to function in the real world, which is going to include rule-breakers.

Parenting is the most rewarding job in the entire world, but it's also the most painful.  My heart couldn't love two beings any more than I love A & A, and watching their relationship waver is tough. My heart feels their pain, their worries.  I'm in need of a band-aid here, friends. Any suggestions?

1 comment:

  1. All I can say Wendy, is that it is a long road raising a son with Aspergers. There were times when I could hardly breathe for the fear for his future, but as we both know fear is not productive for us or our children. My son would laugh when anyone got hurt. Hysterically. When my mother-in-law passed away her couldn't stop laughing (he was 9). He kept saying "What's the big deal? She was old!" He said he didn't want to go to her funeral because he would get in trouble for laughing. In later years, he said he was sad, but he was just so surprised she had died he couldn't stop laughing. We went through times of violence (mainly threats)toward siblings and ourselves, having to call the police a couple of times in his teen years. We loved him, his siblings loved him, and we didn't give up.He has grown(28yrs old) to be an exceptionally compassionate person and continues to be the favorite brother in the family. Even in the worst of times he would always come to us and apologize for his behavior (my other kids were not so inclined generally). Dealing with a brother with differences has caused my other children to become exceptional people, accepting of differences, and loving. I wish I had an easy answer for you, but you are doing exactly what you need to do. Explaining life to him, helping him learn what is acceptable and what is not, loving him and guiding him. You will see the results of your consistent parenting. Amelia is going to be fine and even better than fine. It is not easy to see our children hurt, but she is a strong little girl who dearly loves her brother and when she is grown, you will realize that she wouldn't be the amazing woman she has become without having had Anderson for her dear brother.