There was one incident when Casey was three and he was truly defiant. Andrew and I had asked Casey to put away a handful of toys. He just stood there. Being calm well-educated parents, we tried positive parenting to get him to oblige our request. Lack of obedience then called for step two, time out. Within a few minutes it quickly escalated to step three, raising our voices. Finally the “if we can’t teach our child to be obedient at three he will end up being a bank robber at 23” logic kicked in, and we smacked him. His response was not what we expected. And he certainly didn’t start picking up any toys.
Casey just looked at us, “why did you hit me?” He could not understand why we would hit him. There was no logical reasoning for this action. It turns out Casey has great difficulty organizing his thoughts, a fairly common Aspergers trait. A “put the toys away” instruction would have been internally processed as:
Which toy do I pick up first? Where did that toy come from? Who gave it to me? Is it mine, or Baileys? Where does the toy go? Two days ago it was in the lounge room toybox but yesterday it was in the toy room toybox. But this toy is special, maybe I should put it in my bedroom? It’s got some small parts so I need to put it out of the reach of babies.
Five minutes later and he’s still holding the toy, trying to determine an appropriate destination for it, whilst also feeling completely overwhelmed by the fact that there’s a whole pile of toys, all asking so many questions.
From my perspective, five minutes later I’m red in the face with frustration over a “disobedient” child, refusing to put his things away. From Casey’s perspective, all that asking nicely, time out, distracting yelling and a smack didn’t help solve the problem. In fact if just brought on more internal questioning. What was that for? Why would my Mummy hit me? Hitting is naughty, you’re not supposed to hit people!
I’ve learnt a few things about training my aspies since then. Tidying the house now involves instructions such as:
“Casey, pick up the books and put them on the book shelves in the study”, “Bailey, pick up the shoes and put them in the correct labeled shoe baskets”, “Archie, pick up the cups and plates and put them in the sink, in the kitchen”. Often it’s easier just to do the tidying up on my own, as by the time I’ve finished giving such specific instructions, I’m exhausted. I know when I’ve run out of energy as I ask Casey to “Pick up the Lego” and 5 minutes later he’s still standing there holding the Lego!
There is of course the “people are due any second and the house is a mess” cleaning too. That usually consists of turning on the vacuum and driving it directly towards a pile of Lego pieces randomly scattered on the floor. No instructions are needed in this case, as the boys leap into lifesaver mode and attempt to rescue their beloved pieces of plastic. I won’t lie, over the years some pieces have been lost to the stressed Mummy panic vac.
Where the random frantically collected pieces end up I have no idea, but one day I did find a collection next to the toilet. I think Bailey had collected them in his shirt, then went to the bathroom. I don’t think he could have predicted that during the toilet clothing shuffle all of the pieces would fall out of his shirt, onto the floor. Well at least I assume they all went on the floor? More Lego casualties.
Given the dedication and love my boys have for Lego it’s been difficult to hold back on the “do this or I’ll remove your Lego” parenting threat. We once “closed the Lego table” when Casey was 6. The Lego collection had expanded and no longer fit on the “out of baby brother’s reach” kitchen bench. It had now taken over the entire “let’s pretend we can be civilized when relatives come over” dining room table. I can’t remember the incident that lead to the Lego table being closed (covered in a big white sheet) but 4 years later he still hasn’t forgotten it, and neither have we.
Taking away as aspies’ only way to unwind and relax after an unpredictable day is not only torture for the aspie, but for everyone else too, as the aspie attempts to find another predictable, measureable, constructive and comforting method to occupy their mind. The semi-retired train table got a pretty good work out that week, and so did our sanity, listening to a 6 year old recite every episode of Thomas the Tank engine he had memorized from two years earlier and constantly reinacting them. The romance of the wooden train wheel’s clickety clack sound running over disjointed wooden rails quickly wore thin. When the Lego table was re-opened we were all very relieved.
The time out chair is still our most used method of aspie training. We also have extensive reward charts and behaviour modification strategies in place. My favourite, and the most absolute no fail guaranteed method of aspie training is unconditional love. Some may call it puppy love blackmail but I have yet to find a more effective method of monitoring behaviour.
It works like this. My boys are adored. Every day they are snuggled, kissed and told how much I love them. I take the time to acknowledge them every time they do the right thing. We practically throw a party when one of them has listened, obeyed instructions and lasted meltdown free for a whole day. Not an easy task given the thousands of verbal, non-verbal and highly illogical instructions that are requested of them from school, friends and other unpredictable environments.
The intense bond between us that means that if they do something really wrong, I can lovingly, quietly tell them that they’ve disappointed me and they’re devastated. With Archie, who has some level of practiced eye contact, all I need to do is give him “that look” and I instantly get about 1000 I’m sorry’s! This technique is mostly effective at home, in their predictable, routine environment. But we needed to start somewhere, so why not where they feel most comfortable.
It’s a journey we are on and we’re all doing our best. My three aspies are caring, sensitive, loving boys who are not always able to control themselves, but they're learning. I may not be able to pass on the time out chair but one day I will hand over the “puppy love blackmail” keys to their future partners. At least by then I will know they have been well loved and trained.