I recognized Bud instantly in a recent post on Autism's Edges, in which MothersVox explored her daughter Sweet M's difficulty with tantrums at the end of an activity that she's not ready to end, like being on the playground bridge by herself. She writes:
"But if I can find a way to help her know that she's not losing the possibility of that pleasure forever, then the transition can be easier. Tricks include consistency—though not necessarily rigidity—but also early warnings, and reminders that TV (or the bridge all to yourself) will be possible again, TV later, TV tomorrow. Aggressive language, a combative attitude, and demands for obedience—"TV off now, take your bath now!" would be completely counterproductive, because then her fear of losing the TV or the wobbly bridge for all time and eternity, would escalate. Parental, and pedagogical, cool heads matter so much."
This is so totally, utterly, and completely true for Bud.
Early warnings, in particular, work so well in helping Bud make transitions. Trying to get him to end his computer time used to be a battle until we figured that out. Now, all I have to do is say "Ten more minutes, Bud, and then it's time to turn off the computer and play toys," wait for the "Okay, Mom," and give him ten minutes to wrap up. At that point, he very calmly shuts down the game, powers down the computer, and walks away. (I have also learned that letting him bring closure to the activity himself is very important; it does not go well if I try to turn of the computer or - heaven forbid - we try to leave the computer on.)
MothersVox's idea of the need for kids with ASD to know that endings are not forever is also true for Bud; he transitions away from fun activities best when he knows he is not giving up his one and only opportunity to do them. For that reason, it is HUGELY important that I make sure that my actions match my words. Luckily, that was an important parenting philosophy for me even before I knew that Bud was on the spectrum; I knew that I never wanted to use "quick fix" solutions to make a transition easier in the moment unless I was fully committed to following through on the promise. I have always chosen my words and made my promises very carefully. Bud has not heard "If we leave the playground right now, then maybe we'll have time to get ice cream after supper," only to learn after supper that "It's too dark and Mommy is tired. Maybe tomorrow, Bud." I avoid answers like "maybe" or "we'll see" in the hope that after some time passes Bud will forget to ask again.
Because I have tried to be so consistent with following through I think that Bud has come to trust that if I tell him we will do something at a later date, he can be confident that we really will. (And I really believe he has internalized the value of a promise as well, which is why I wait for the "Okay, Mom," when I give him a ten-minute warning; I think that, when he is regulated, Bud follows through on his promises as well.) He has also come to trust that when I can't follow-through on something (because, let's face it, we can't always follow through) there is a good reason. So when we couldn't go to gymnastics this week because I was sick, Bud rolled with it beautifully and said "we go to gymnastics anudderday."
Even back when he first started using language Bud recognized that if, by catching me off guard, he could trick me into saying that he could do xyz, I would not reneg on the deal. So I would tell him it was time to stop playing computer and he'd say "Computer in-a morning," and I would agree, thinking that "in the morning" meant "sometime tomorrow." But there he'd be, bounding out of bed at 5:30 a.m. and heading for the mouse. And only then would I realize I'd been had.
I've become more sophisticated since then. But so has Bud. In fact, I now recognize that he uses our negotiations of future pay-offs as a tool for self-regulation. He knows that he will be able to stay regulated through a transition if he has the comfort of knowing that the pay-off will come. The typical transaction usually goes something like this:
"Oh, no! The computer game is broken."
"Yes, Bud, I think it is."
"We buy a new one at the S Store," (which is what Bud calls Toys R Us, for some reason.)
"We can look and see if they have one, Bud. They might not have it."
"Yes. In the morning."
"No, Bud, you have school in the morning."
"No, honey, we won't be able to go to the S Store tomorrow."
"Yes. Another day. You got it."
"Anudderday" has become Bud's magic solution for maintaining balance and regulation. All is not lost. Mom said it will happen. I know it will happen.