Monday, January 18, 2010

Broken Glass and Broken Hearts

The holidays are often described as a time of good cheer, good food, and good company.  Well, at least the food and company were truly good this year, but the weeks leading up to "the most wonderful time of the year" were brutal and sadly without much holiday cheer.  Gabe began exhibiting some very frustrating and  destructive behaviors in early December that were pushing us over the edge.  It seemed not a day went by that he didn't manage to destroy our home in some way.  He was determined to break anything and everything he could get his hands on, including our holiday decorations and our entire Christmas tree, which he pulled down onto the wood floor, breaking ornaments that marked our first year married, Gabe's first Christmas, and part of a collection spanning a decade.  As soon as we cleaned up one mess, he was off destroying something else!  He would laugh hysterically after breaking these items.  Shattered glass took the place of many of our sentimental  items during the long month of December.  It is very difficult to see your child behave this way and during this time our home was filled with both broken glass and broken hearts.

In the midst of these more challenging times, I have to stop and remind myself of something a friend said when describing her own son who is diagnosed with Autism.  She stated that he "is so far from having well-developed independent interests and play skills, sense of danger, sense of self-control, etc.  He is a four and a half feet tall toddler!"  This couldn't be a more accurate description of Gabe.  When given unstructured time, Gabe does not know how to entertain himself and when combined with his lack of impulse control and love of negative attention, it creates a perfect storm of chaos and destruction.  

This post does in fact have a happy ending!  We are blessed with an amazing team of behavioral therapists who intervened just in time!  With their help, we were able to implement a token system that gave Gabe something else to focus on besides his destructive behaviors.  This system gave him ideas of activities he can do when given "down" time in order to earn rewards that he finds highly motivating.  At first we were utilizing the token system nonstop... literally almost every second that he was home from school and not in therapy, we were running around the house giving "checks" and constantly praising him with "good job!"  This new system got us through several holiday gatherings without a single behavior problem!  By the time Christmas Eve arrived, we were no longer cleaning up shattered glass and were even able to relax and breathe with ease for the duration of the holidays.  Alleluia!  

We have now been down this road of Autism long enough to know that this current good "spell" will not last forever and something even more challenging and heartbreaking is waiting for us on the horizon.  We never let our guards completely down, but for now we are enjoying our precious son, who is such a joy!

Adventures with Baby (part 2)

We have had many fun adventures with Baby since she entered our lives.  Gabe has been so sweet with her and takes care of her as though she were a real baby.  He has put band-aids and ice packs on her "boo-boos" and has given her hugs and kisses.  When he first got her, Gabe took her everywhere, along with her pretty pink stroller.  He pushed her in stores, restaurants, the doctor's office, the park, and even the library.  I found it very humorous to fold and load her stroller in the car as I did so many times for Gabe when he was younger.  On one trip to the library, Gabe took Baby inside and had her select his books to check out.  He used her hand to pick up each book and then when he was finished, he sat her next to him on a couch and read to her.  A few days later he sat down in the living room with Baby and taught her how to write her name.  He used hand over hand to "teach" her.  

As the newness has worn off, he has opted to take her to fewer places, but on occasion still requests her presence when we plan to go somewhere.  Just recently he wanted to take her to my mom's house.  They stopped at McDonald's on their way and Gabe insisted on taking Baby inside.  Gabe was wearing his big, black Harley Davidson jacket and my mom said it was quite comical to see him in his motorcycle jacket pushing his little baby doll around the restaurant.  The thought makes me laugh!  Gabe is a well rounded child indeed and in touch with his more sensitive side.  He loves cars, trucks, motorcycles and of course, his "Baby."  

Adventures with Baby

It has been so long since I posted and I don't even know where to start.  Of the many events that have taken place since my last blog entry, our adventures with "Baby" stand out the most and so I will spend a few moments highlighting the newest addition to our family.  

Several months ago, I sent Bruno on an errand with Gabe to pick out an indoor trampoline.  Gabe seemed excited about this mission and eagerly went along with dad to purchase his new toy.  Awhile later I received a call from Bruno and he was barely able to stop laughing long enough to fill me in on "mission trampoline."  Bruno decided to run in the mall and thought he would check in at the mall toy store to see if they happened to carry indoor trampolines.  While there, the entire mission changed as Gabe became completely enamored with a certain baby doll with black and pink pig tails, a pink dress and shiny, gold shoes.  He not only insisted that he had to have this special doll, but he also apparently needed a pink, floral stroller to go with her.  Bruno did what any good father would do in this situation and instead of sticking to the original plan, he purchased a baby doll and stroller for his 5 year-old son.  Bruno laughed hysterically as he described Gabe pushing his doll in her pink stroller through the mall.  Gabe even stopped in Corner Bakery on their way out and picked out an apple for each of them.  Bruno said that a group of older ladies stopped to compliment Gabe on how well he was caring for his baby doll.  Instead of being embarrassed like most fathers might be in this situation, my husband recognized the importance of this moment.  Our son was showing empathy and pretend play skills!  This is huge in the world of Autism.  Gabe had rarely shown any interest in dolls or stuffed animals before this day and Bruno knew that this was a moment to not only encourage, but celebrate!  Would many other fathers purchase pink dolls and strollers for their Kindergarten aged sons?  Probably not, but most fathers are more concerned about teaching athletic skills and don't have to think about their children's ability to learn empathy, pretend and symbolic play because these things come naturally to most children.  I am grateful for a husband that recognized the importance of Gabe's interest in and new "relationship" with Baby as more important than protecting his own "male pride."  Sure, Bruno would rather be coaching little league and throwing the ball around with his son than parading through the mall with a pink doll and stroller, but that's not where our son is developmentally and so we deal with what "is" at the moment and in doing so, we welcome Baby into our family.