Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Dogs of War

It's been weird the last few days.

Carter has been gone with Jen's parents camping since Sunday afternoon, shortly after the Two-Face Incident. Talk about separation. THAT'S separation. He won't be back until Thursday.

Bennett's demeanor has obviously been a lot calmer because of it. He still tantrums. The boy does not like to be told no. It's really that simple. When it comes right down to it, all the research I have done says this. Find the trigger points and try to change them or try to make behavioral changes based on what you observe.

I've been observing. Lots of observing. He gets pissed when he is denied shit.

Don't we ALL?

But for him, his brain just doesn't seem to be able to process the denial in a way other people do. I don't know how correctable it is, but in order to move forward I certainly have to believe that it is. And I say that based on evidence provided by Carter's absence. As much as I have missed Carter, Bennett has been subjected to less denial at home, so the behavior has diminished.

What is he not being denied right now?

A relationship with his brother.

It's Catch-22. When Carter is around, he wants to be close to Carter. LOVES him. Little brother looks up to big brother and wants to be around him. Big brother is annoyed. They behave like a couple of wolves sometimes, both sort of nipping at each other, as any brothers might do, but the shrapnel from the Disability Grenade makes the outcome of their exchanges go down paths that are not normal.

Bennett reacts negatively to Carter when Carter doesn't do some things in a way that Bennett wants. Another totally expected reaction. But the relationship morphs because in response to being denied these things, by being 'dissed' by his older brother, Bennett forces his older brother to reckon with him by being violent.

Carter MUST react. He CAN'T ignore.

Carter can't dismiss Bennett if Bennett is in his grill, hitting him or running after him with INTENT TO HARM. It's a somewhat learned cycle, though. AND one that feeds and perpetuates itself. Those few times when Carter can get past feeling like Bennett is a loose cannon (which he is) and showers him with attention, Bennett is satiated and will ease up. But Carter can't maintain it all the time, AND he should not have to.

And that is because Bennett cannot be encouraged to engage in socially inappropriate behavior or be shown that he is in total control of any relationship, because THAT would also be something that he can't learn is OK. And I know that he would learn this if allowed to.

At SBSA they don't just let him walk up and put his hands on other kids. But for a while we had been allowing it here with family members because to deny Bennett that would force an 'issue'. I had to explain to everybody involved in Bennett's care-giving that it teaches Bennett the wrong information to allow it under any circumstance. He has to be taught that any contact that is uninvited is unacceptable, period. Otherwise he will not learn to not hit. It's a simple equation, but it has to START with no uninvited contact at all.

It can be very maddening.

Especially since I don't even know if I am on the right path. I am guessing here on some of it, based on things I have observed and read and learned from BT's at school and things that SEEM logical. However, I have often found that whenever I speak to some ABA people I discover that I can be way off base in my thinking, especially in the area of negative reinforcement. Something I happen to think is valid but most ABA purists tend to think is not.

But again, I am not even 100% convinced of anything these days. I am going through this day by day and trying to go with whatever works.

I THINK I am sure of one thing. Bennett gets frustrated by things that have everything to do with his lack of ability to 'join in'. I'm about 96% convinced of it. He's just normal enough to barely fit in, and a lot of people mistake him for a 'Norm', but he's disabled enough to not be able to. It's got to be a shitty place for him to exist in. I wonder just how aware of it he actually is. I think more than we often give him credit for, but I can't know for sure, at least not yet.

This morning it occurred to me that it really bothers Bennett when I laugh at something on the radio on our way to SBSA. When I do, he imitates me and then scowls and gets mad. This morning I started to speak to him about it, though I am not sure he understood me at all, as I am often when I talk to him about anything, but I am still in that place within myself where I try speaking to him as if he can understand me.

But what I asked him was if it made him mad because he didn't understand what the men were saying and why was Daddy laughing and he did he feel bad that he couldn't join in? He was smiling.

Now you have to be careful here. And I have to be careful with how I say this, but we often assign emotional or even higher levels of thinking in situations where we simply DESIRE there to be some kind of feeling or thought. We project what we feel or think somewhere it doesn't really exist.

People do this most often with their pets. They believe their dogs, for example, have higher levels of reasoning than they actually do. I have to be cautious if I say that I think Bennett was smiling because he UNDERSTOOD me. He may very well have just been smiling because I was SPEAKING TO HIM DIRECTLY and not LISTENING TO THE RADIO instead of communicating with him, or trying to engage with him. Therein lies what can often be compared to Hell's Pizza slice.

Now, I don't mean to compare Bennett to a dog, but in a lot of ways the communication barrier that exists between us often makes it feel as if we are members of two entirely different species.

That's not a judgment of my son, just a statement of fact at how difficult it is to build a bridge from my brain to his.

As far as bridges go, I can say this. Sometimes, all it takes, even on nights like last night where it looked as if the scales were going to tip towards Meltdownville, sometimes all it takes to build bridges is not necessarily communicating with Bennett, but just PARTICIPATING with him.

It requires, not unlike what I explained above with Carter, time and effort and something mutual that we can enjoy together.

So while the early part of the afternoon back from SBSA was sketchy, while I was trying to do some cleaning, do SOME work (which is almost a joke now as Bennett is taking so much time it is hard to manage my small efforts to generate cash for the family), get some stuff together for him to eat and so forth. During this time, he was a beast. He was defiant, with definite purpose, getting into everything he was not supposed to...all for attention.

Sounds fairly normal. doesn't it? He just doesn't understand limitations or boundaries, which is why it gets dangerous. Doesn't KNOW, or even remember after getting scalded, that the hot water tap is HOT, so I have to shut it off, doesn't know what sharp is, or that heavy objects hurled across the room can hurt people or break other objects. He doesn't have a full grasp of consequence.

Later, when Jen focused on him for some play time then I for a bath, and then he and I settled down for the Heat @ Thunder Game 1 of the NBA Finals, he was having a good time.

A great time actually.

Full focus. 100% engagement. It is just hard to maintain the intensity all the time, every moment with a boy that has a really hard time doing anything on his own these days. That's the hard part.

But more on THAT, and the NBA and Game 1 and everything else, next time. Why shoot the entire clip today when I have to keep up a pace for daily posting? See? Old dogs can learn new tricks too.


PS: Dogs are great, but we do NOT need one. It isn't something that we even want in our lives, at all. Can't handle the extra responsibility or annual expense or burden of care-giving the dog will require. Dogs are super cool, don't get me wrong, but it is not in cards for us right now. Just throwing that bone out there. ;)

Oh and one more thing...all the pictures? From a VERY cool website I stumbled on called, worth checking out. I don't normally credit sources (I suck) but they have some awesome photos.


  1. I love it when I feel like someone is writing JUST TO ME! Noted - y'all don't need a dog right now...and don't need me telling you you need a dog right now. Got it :)

    I have to think that with the level of observation, care and logic that you are putting into decyphering Bennett's drives, you must be on the right track. No idea...but my gut says you're right. Fingers crossed.

  2. I think you are definitely on the right path with regards to understanding Bennet's motivations. Julia is EXACTLY the same way. Does not like to be told no and gets very upset when people don't understand where she's coming from. Something that's been very effective (and this has been just in the past year) is not necessarily to tell her no...but to tell her "later". Later doesn't always mean that its going to happen, but her knowing that the door isn't shut completely on whatever it is she wants helps to mitigate the temporary disappointment. Many times now she'll come up to me later and explain why she can't ever have what she's asking for. Its a process for sure.

    Also if she's crying about something and is having a hard time articulating why, just me explaining it for her helps her to calm down and get past it.

  3. That makes a lot of sense. I like the later thing.

    What I find is the hardest is when he goes into this sort of Hunt and Peck mode. I'm not sure what to call it. It is almost like a madness that takes hold of him. He goes from one station to the next of things he is not supposed to do, and these are things I don't have the ability in this home to block him away from by shutting the room off from him, and I have to continue to block his path from the station.

    Turn the sink on, block him. Goes to dishwasher and opens it to take out dishes to throw. Block him. Goes to drawers that have already been stripped of all interior contents because of this behavior. Block him. Goes to doors to pull them open. Finds them sealed shut. Starts yanking on them like the Wolfman. Block. Fridge. Sealed. Block.

    And on and on. It is not until I stop him and physically restrain him in a sort of forced Time Out that he kind of snaps out of it.

    And I don't even know if this does him more harm than good. I do it calmly, with as little emotion as I can even though it tears me up on the inside to even do it, and I say calming things during, but I dunno. I could be fucking him up worse. But if I don't do it soon things will be thrown or he will be banging his head into the floor. Inevitability when he rages like that.

    Can't know since we can't communicate on that level at all. It is very basic needs type of communication. Like on the level of 'Oh's' for 'Cheerios' and 'Wacu' for 'Water' still, even now. Nothing really more sophisticated than that, well other than 'Dow Pweaz!!!' when he is being restrained.

  4. Beware...comments meant to be helpful suggestions below...I wrote a lot today so my mind is sort of working...

    1) For us, with Dora when she learned to hate no, all we had to say was "maybe next time." For some reason, that worked with her (as with the "the door wasn't completely closed." I felt a bit guilty knowing that I was counting on her to forget...but it worked.

    2) A dedicated Bennett drawer in the kitchen with a rotating aray of things he CAN handle, but does not usually get to. (spatulas, cheap pots and pan and lids to go BOOM, clang, clang) egg cartons to crunch, bubble wrap to pop, cardboard to tear....etc..
    Then, sometimes when he is hunting and pecking, he can be redirected to the space where there is something totally new and fun. It would take a little set up...and the rotation of objects, but the surprise of newness might be enough to satisfy his curiosity.

    You have developed quite the behavioral psychologist insight.

    3) Carter needs to be able to tell an objective party about his secret feelings towards and about Bennett. He can't really tell you, or his mom. By telling, he can process them, get permission to feel them, lower his guilt and shame, not have to hold onto them, lower his resentment, and then transcend them to be more selfless (which is a MAJOR stretch for any 7/8 year old boy.). (sorry about the word "transcend"...not the spelling...but the new ageyness of it. couldn't think of a better way to illustrate the point.)

    Ok...time to write this all down in a letter. Sorry.
    Hope we get to kill aliens soon!

  5. Blogzilly at his finest in this post. You are one amazing man and father.

  6. Sophie goes into Hunt and Peck mode also. It's like she scans the house and tries to destroy anything she knows is breakable or she is not suppose to touch. And it is like she cannot control herself. A lot of times she does this when she comes home from school. I think it's the transition from being at school which is a structured environment to having the freedom to do what she wants in the comfort of her own home. She has to decompress and she needs my full attention to do this (or else the house gets destroyed). A lot of times, I can pick her up and sit with her on the couch/lay with her in bed while she sucks her thumb and twirls my hair (I know you lack that) and it calms her down. She will be completely quiet and then 10-15 minutes later she pops out of it like a new person.

  7. Elaine, I know what you mean, a lot of it is the transition period. Funny that. And I find a lot of similarities between the Bennett and the Surgery Kids as far as tone to these events even though he exhibits so many classical Autism characteristics. Also an interesting thing to note.

    BUT...Jen pointed out that Carter used to do something, on a lesser scale, when he was younger. So THAT got me to thinking as well. Something genetic also at play here? Would that explain some of Carter's stuff?

    Oops...a piece of head just exploded. I need to go clean off.


  8. Oh and Joyce, I appreciate it, I do, but I really think I rise to one level. Mediocrity. I am at the really high end of it, but that's it. Greatness is an achievement that is beyond my reach and I am OK with it.

    But I appreciate the thought, I really do.


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