Thursday, January 29, 2009

Aspie Persistence

One of the characteristics of kids with Asperger's Syndrome is that they want everything to be the same, all the time. All young kids benefit from the comfort of a steady routine, but it's vastly more important in the life of a child with AS. It provides for them the same security that just having a mom or dad around provides for a normal child.

Kids with AS tend to be highly specific in their routines, and get extremely upset if the routines aren't followed. How specific, may you ask? Let me give you an example. My 2 year old normal son Knuckles and my 4 year old Aspie son Bagel both like to have me read them books. If I get a new book, I can negotiate with Knuckles to have me read the new book along with his usual books. Bagel has to read the same book over and over for weeks, like he's studying it to plumb the secrets of the universe from its meager words and pictures. He chooses that book and only that book at bedtime, every night. From time to time he'll switch it up for another book, but it's almost always one we've read before. (I think we've just read The Very Hungry Caterpillar for the millionth time; do I win a prize?) He asks for the same lullaby every night and won't tolerate it when it's his brother's turn to choose the song. When we read poems he always wants the same poem ("Hungry Kid Island" by Shel Silverstein). If I want to force him to choose a new book, either because there's a book I want to introduce or because I'm sick to death of reading the book, I have to do it by physically removing the old book to a different floor of the house. That's why The Very Hungry Caterpillar is now sitting on a shelf above my computer desk. It is now officially a Lap Time Book, not a Bed Time Book.

When Bagel goes to my parents' house, he likes to choose his book from the same small subset of their generous selection of children's books. Oddly enough, he has little interest in reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar while he's there.

This week Bagel's school had a book fair. Bagel went to school on Monday and saw the book fair and of course wanted a book (this is what we've done at all book fairs during his lifetime: bought him a book). He somehow became convinced that if he wanted the book, he had to go NOW and buy the book. I showed him the flyer and told him that the book fair was going on all week, so I would send him to school with the money on Wednesday and he could buy the book. It took me hours to convince him to stop screaming and persuade him that this was a viable solution and that no, we really weren't going to the book fair right this second or even tomorrow. When he does this, the only way out is through. You can never give in. Giving in makes it worse-- not just because it reinforces the screaming = results equation, but because he will also be upset by the uncertainty that is created by introducing the possibility that you may change your mind. Believe me, I've tried. He screams even worse and longer if I give in than if I hold my ground.

Now all that happened at home. But it doesn't always happen at home. Sometimes it happens in the grocery store. Sometimes it happens at the library. Bagel will get convinced of something and then scream abuses at me, sometimes for hours, when I won't do things his way immediately. Once we were in the line at the library when he began screaming because I wasn't checking out the books to his satisfaction, and a lady snottily remarked that I should control my kids at the public library. I explained that he had AS, but she just didn't care.

My son tells me he hates me, that I'm a bad mommy, that I should get out of the house, that he's going to kill me or set me on fire or cut me into pieces. All because I refused to fetch him a spoon when he was closer to the drawer than I was, or we had run out of bread, or any one of a million tiny things. It's really hard to endure.