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!

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