Saturday, March 24, 2007

A big day

I've mentioned several times before that I often try to get a sense of Bud's reactions to a day's events by asking "Was it a hard day or an easy day?" In the past, I have always gotten a quick, straight answer: it has always been either a hard day or an easy day.

Today, Bud's answer came more slowly and more thoughtfully. "It was," he said, "a big day."

I waited a little while and asked him again, but the answer was the same: "It was a big day."

As I reflect on the day we've had, I can see that he's right. This was not a black-and-white, good-or-bad sort of day. It was somewhere in between - perhaps more grey than gray.

Bud lost another tooth yesterday - his fifth, and one of the top front ones. The tooth fairy left him two dollars and he wanted to head out to spend them right away. He knew exactly what he wanted - a new Teletubbies DVD he'd seen online. That was all easy.

We couldn't go shopping first thing today. That was hard. The reason was that he had a ski lesson - which would have been totally easy, if it wasn't standing between him and the Teletubbies. We headed to the mountain on a beautiful sunny day (easy), for what he knew would be his final ski lesson of the season (hard).

He had a new instructor who was less guarded and protective than the instructors he's had for his last couple of lessons. They spent the whole lesson on the bigger hill instead of starting off on the smaller one (easyhard - excitingscary), and Bud had more freedom (easyhard), he took more risks (easyhard), he was more independent (easyhard), he moved down the hill faster (easyeasyeasy), but fell more (hard). His instructor urged him beyond his comfort zone and he was more successful than he knew he could be (easy), but the instructor kept pushing when Bud had decided that he was done for the day (hard). My husband and I also encouraged "one more time" after he'd taken a break, which probably felt like we'd joined the opposing team (hard). Bud stood his ground, and we packed it in with no more runs (easy). There was big cookie waiting in the Lodge (easy) and we got to ride the shuttle bus back to the car (easy), and then we were off to spend Bud's tooth fairy money on the new Teletubbies DVD (very easy).

Toys R Us didn't have the DVD (hard).

I suggested that we look at Target (hard - because Bud knows that I tend to need to look at just one more thing every time I enter Target and Bud is not a fan of shopping), but he refused. Then he asked if I would go to Target but not do any other shopping. I agreed (easy) and we were off. But Target didn't have the DVD either (hard).

Neither did Borders (hard). But after long deliberations (hard), Bud decided to buy a Boohbah DVD instead (easy- just not as easy). Bud's dad had promised that we could have a pajama party and watch the new DVD before bed (very easy), but that meant he wouldn't be able to watch it as soon as he got home (hard).

Luckily, when we got home we discovered that the mail had arrived and in it was the Teletubbies book we'd ordered through a seller of used books on March 2, and which had apparently been shipped via pony express. It had been a very long wait (exceptionally hard), but the wait made the book's arrival feel like a holiday of the grandest nature (exceptionally easy).

Bud spent the rest of the afternoon with his book (easy), and after dinner we all gathered for our pajama party and the inaugural viewing of the new Boohbah DVD (easy). We watched all three episodes on the DVD (easy), but drew the line at checking out all the "special features," as it was already well past bedtime (hard).

As we got ready for bed, we talked about what we'd do tomorrow. I suggested that we might go to church (hard). Bud suggested that we should play outside, and got a non-committal answer from me (easy? hard?)

Then Bud and I started talking about his day. I asked him lots of open ended questions about the things that were hard and the things that were easy, and he struggled to find the words to explain to me what was weighing on his mind. And what was on his mind was this: today was hard because he was thinking about yesterday. And yesterday, I yelled at him.

I have almost no recollection of this event.

According to Bud, I yelled at him because he was screaming. Then I vroomed him. Then I "terrificked" him.

I asked him what it sounds like when I vroom him, and he made an exasperated growly sort of sound in his throat (which, frankly, sounded more like me than I'd care to admit). I assume my "terrific" was some sarcastic response I made to him - this boy who doesn't really understand sarcasm.

I felt about two inches tall.

"Wow. That was hard, Bud," I said. "It was hard because..."

"It was hard because you hurt my feelings. You're sorry you hurt my feelings."

"I am sorry I hurt your feelings, Bud. I'm very sorry I hurt your feelings."

"That's okay."

"Well... thank you."

"You're welcome."

I finished the bedtime routine, then slunk out of his room to try to mop myself up. I can't believe I vroomed him and terrificked him and hurt his feelings and barely remember the incident that he's been carrying with him all day. That's really hard.

On the other hand, he told me what was bothering him. He explained his emotions. He explained the cause-and-effect of how my actions affected his emotions. He talked it all through until he got it off his chest and felt better. That had to be a hard conversation for him to have. But I'll bet that having it has made it a lot easier for him to get to sleep tonight.

And what's more - Bud has fully grasped the complexity of his day. He didn't seize one particular moment and let it define his day: his day was not the yelling, or the skiing, or the movie, or the book. His day was not hard or easy; it was just big.

A little over a year ago, I wrote this post, in which I discussed my frustration with the strategies outlined by Simon Baron-Cohen and his colleagues for helping children with autism to "mind read" as they learn about human emotion. My concern was that their approach treated emotion as black-or-white, without any consideration for the extraordinary percentage of emotional responses that are driven by grey. At that time, I wrote:

If I want Bud to be successful in the world, I need to help him understand and make sense of the flexible, evolutionary, constantly changing world of human emotion. I am doing him a disservice if I set low expectations and define success as a rigid understanding of a series of "if this, then that" scenarios.

And here we are, thirteen months later, with Bud reminding me - teaching me - that some days cannot be summed up by either "hard" or "easy" - that sometimes you spend your days skiing through the slopes of emotion and you slalom between the hard and the easy; and even though you know just exactly what you want, you find that you can't always get it right away - but, the alternatives are not so bad, and sometimes there are even exciting surprises in store for you; and mostly, at the end of the day, you remember that it's okay to get angry with the people you love and that even though they sometimes hurt your feelings, you know that you still love them and they still love you.

Bud was absolutely right: It was a big day.


Anonymous said...

Dang! That WAS a big day, for all of you!!!!! Your little guy sounds awesome!

Anonymous said...

don't you wish he could show such progress w/o breaking your heart? (or was that just me?)

thank you for sharing bud's progress. it gives me such hope for my little guy on days when we're all frustrated.

Bea said...

I was just lecturing my students yesterday on the pernicious modern habit of turning nouns into verbs (i.e. "agendize"). "Terrificked," though is a really necessary addition to the English language. It's a word I foresee using a lot.

Mom without a manual said...

Wow! That was a really BIG day!

I hope your big day gets even bigger when you think about the rest of us now being more careful about vrooming and terrificking our kids.

Dang, that is heartbreaking! But such a huge milestone! Thanks for sharing!

Maddy said...

Lummy! I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds that sarcasm slips out!

I'm right with you on the 'understanding other people's emotions' marlarky, but I am a bit biased on the 'theory of mind.' Bud shows that they are ever bit as empathetic, if not more so, but maybe sometimes lack the ability to express it. It's a huge development to be actually able to let it out.
Well done you both. Best wishes

kristina said...

I am thinking yesterday was a big day too---big enough for Bud still to be thinking about it, processing it and (so finely today), explaining what he perceived to be going on to you. Am wondering too if the good physical exercise skiing helping get so much out and help to "regulate"----exercise often has this effect on Charlie.

Hope the specials on the DVD are worth waiting for.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Thanks so much for sharing -- Have been reading for a few days and will keep on. I am a teacher and am now programming for students with special needs at an elementary school (6 of the 7 are children with autism). Reading your posts are giving me so much insight into my students' worlds and the worlds of their parents making me a better teacher for them. I am reading as much as possible but nothing can give me as much insight as hearing your stories and those of others who blog. Thank you so much for letting me into your world.

Club 166 said...

It's posts like this that keep me coming back.

A big day, and an absolutely great recounting of it.

None of us are perfect parents. I am convinced that part of striving to be a good parent is realizing it, forgiving myself, and resolving to do better the next time.

And I know that my son (now 7) is also very empathetic, and beats himself up over his own missteps more than those around him do.

Phil Schwarz said...

Wow. A *very* big day. And Bud turns out to be far more observant, capable-of-reasoning-about, and articulate about his emotional state than I was at easily twice his age.
My son Jeremy, 16, is making strides of his own in that area right now...
I think in general that growing up autistic would be so much easier if doing so didn't require disproving such a boatload of misconceptions and foregone conclusions swirling around us all.

joker the lurcher said...

what an amazing post! i also spend a lot of time feeling awful about how i dealt with stuff with my son. but the thing i hold onto is that we can talk about stuff and he can ask me any question under the sun and get an answer that he knows is true.

you are right about the shades of grey in life. one thing i have found from parenting an autistic kid is that i have had to overtly teach him everything rather than him picking it up like other kids might. i have found this really rewarding for myself as it makes me examine why we do things, why we feel certain ways, how it makes you feel physically when you feel certain emotions. i have had to deconstruct social interaction and explain it like i was writing a manual on how to fix a car. and it is really interesting!

also, i have always said to my son from when he was very young that i try my absolute best to be a good mum but quite often i screw up and i am sorry for that. he seems to gain strength from knowing that adults don't have all the answers either.

i also draw comfort from thinking just how much worse life would be for my son with a family who either didn't believe he was autistic or who didn't care enough to find out how to manage things. i work among families where the kids don't get regular meals and are often left to their own devices so they are becoming quite feral. an autistic child (and their are quite a few) in such a family would have a very much worse life. so don't get too down!

VAB said...

What a great narrative of a very big day. Sounds like Bud is going places. Telling you about the vrooming and the terrificking is awesome. I recently and for the first time heard my son's opinion of the move we made eight months ago, so I understand that strange combination of feeling two inches tall because of the truth of the admonishment and at the same time feeling happy and proud about the fact of the admonishment.

Life is interesting.

Unknown said...

Wow! Just...'wow'...

I love it when my son opens up like that. Yeah, two inches tall. Thumbelina. And it's great.

MARY G said...

You should really be proud of him, and of yourself for helping him get so far.

It is really one of life's big mysteries how all kids see things so differently from adults. And better and clearer. My SIL and I took my two to the zoo at age 8 & 9. What they remember the best about the zoo is SIL and I arguing (joke arguing) about who would pay for lunch. Oh, ouch.

Great piece of writing. Thanks for it.

Anonymous said...

Oh, the guilt about what we say to our children (or how we say it)! I, too, have been known to "vroom" at my kids - never called it that before, but boy is it a good onomatopoeia! (I think my "vroom" is a little more growly than vroomy...) My 4 yr. old son calls me out on it all the time. "Mommy, I don't like those mad words!" :(

Anonymous said...

Thanks for popping on over to say hi, and for the very thoughtful e-mail over the whole This Mom misunderstanding. :-)

Wow! That is so great that Bud was able to share what was on his mind like that!

Your blog is one of the first blogs I have really spent a lot of time reading and you have been an inspiration to me in many ways.

Thanks so much for sharing your stories with Bud. It gives me hope that we will get there someday too. And, you have sparked my new interest in blogging!

So thank you, thank you, thank you! Hope you are having a wonderful day!

gretchen said...

1. We had a similar hard experience when "Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie" was supposedly released- couldn't find it anywhere. I was furious and sent Walgreens a "my son has autism" e-mail. I don't usually like to pull out that card, but hell, if your very-attentive-to-certain-details kid sees a dvd in an ad, to be released on a certain day, and then they tell you to try back the next day... Urgh. It makes me vroom just thinking about it and this was like a year and a half ago.

2. I vroom a lot.

Anonymous said...

Great post!
As a mom of a child obsessed with Teletubbies I'll tell you they have stopped selling anything Teletubbies in USA stores. I have to get everything off Amazon, ebay or from UK websites. Very frustrating!

Anonymous said...

Why have I just now found your blog? I have two sons on the spectrum ... HF and ASD.

Wonderful post. I'll see you again.

Angie @ Many Little Blessings said...

Wow! It does sound like it was a "big" day.

Anonymous said...

that was STUPENDOUS!!! i am floored by all the complexities in bud's thinking and expressing and so proud of him!

Anonymous said...

You are the smartest person I know.