Each day is it's own surprise when you have a teenager with Autism. Add puberty and you have the wolds worst slot machine. You pull the lever each morning and wait to see what comes up. It's often new and often odd. One day his auditory system is broken, the headphones are on before he even gets out of bed, the verbal stims are through the roof, he seems completely unfocused and then he has the most focused day at work EVER. The next morning he lands at the other end , focused, happy and completely unable to complete a task without being fully prompted. Everything is jumbled and the goals get confusing. Should I be focusing on the daily behavioral fluctuations? Is sticking to his schedule the most important goal? What do I focus on?
This morning was unusual, a 'WTF is happening?' unusual. Most mornings I use a schedule/reinforcer to get Alex up and going and it works. This morning? Nothing, not just nothing but behaving as if I wasn't in the room. No eye contact, no body language and absolutely no responding to my questions. I didn't exist. He was passive and completely ignoring me. It went on for a good 10 minutes. Nothing I did worked. I now understand why Gandhi's Non co-operation movement was so powerful. I literally didn't know how to respond. Alex had the upper hand.
I pushed a little harder. I gave it a good 'Alex, it's time to get up and get ready. You need to get up now.' This was met with flat out anger. Alex's anger is generally self directed, lots of clenched fists, growling and biting the nearest soft item (the Ipad cover is a favorite). This was intense. Nothing I said calmed him down. He was either committed to raging at me or borderline out of control. I was not going to win this one either. I knew I needed to have some kind of response but I had nothing and slightly was slightly freaked out. So I left.
When I'm in complex situations that are not working my natural response is to pull myself out and observe. I can get cleaner information and I won't make things worse. So I walked over to his windows, closed the curtains, turned off the light, walked out and shut his bedroom door. I took myself out of the situation hoping he would calm down, I knew I wanted him to calm down, beyond that I had nothing.
My next step is question roulette (second worst game). Is the goal that what I say goes? Or that Alex gets up? Is the goal that he isn't allowed to be angry? Or that he can't express his anger? Why is he angry? Is his sensory system a painful mess, could he be in physical pain or having hormone surges? Is he just being defiant? What is my goal here?
So I default to the longest goal I can think of. Which is this, someday I want him to get up on his own, have a morning ritual and get himself ready for his day, without my help. So I went downstairs and rewrote his daily schedule. Ok Alex, no school today, you can stay in bed longer. I'll let you come to me. When you does I'll give you your new schedule (less the big reward because you skipped school). You can decide. You can choose to get ready again on your own or have a really boring day at home.
He bounced downstairs 20 minutes later. The dark angry clouds were gone. I handed him a written schedule and waited for him to read it. I'm sat at the computer trying to look busy. You know that moment when you realize that parental power is just an illusion? That it's all a bluff and relies on the belief that we have power? That's the moment I was sitting in. Will this 5'6'', 160 lb, 16 year old teenager believe thats it's in his best interest to follow the schedule? He's got a choice, if he pushed me hard enough there isn't a lot I could really do to force him. He chose to get ready. He had a good day at work. I was ready for a glass of wine by noon.
Creating independence that isn't enforced by aggression or punishment in someone with Autism? It feels like uncharted territory. I hope I'm doing this right. There isn't any real road map. Just the hope that each day he will choose to try.