Wednesday, September 05, 2012

When losing is winning

It was one of those afternoons.

I imagine a similar scene has been playing out all over the country lately, as kids return to school and spend their days trying to manage new environments with new people who have new agendas, but have not yet established new predictable routines.  This time of year is exhausting for Bud and though he's been making a smooth transition to school, it's taking everything he has.  By the time he got to me late this afternoon, he had exhausted his reserves.  The poor kid was just a big jumbled mess of reaction and emotion and dysregulation.

You can probably imagine the behavior that typically results from reaction and emotion and dysregulation - and it played out just that way.  As it did, I tried to be clear about expectations and boundaries and consequences, but, despite that, Bud kept pushing until, ultimately, he pushed too far. 

When the consequences I'd promised finally ensued, Bud's emotional dysregulation escalated and his emotion ran even higher.  I tried to stay even, recognizing that the more he escalated, the more I needed to be consistent.  We spent a lot of time and he shed a lot of tears, but eventually, he accepted the reality of the situation and settled into it.

At about that time, he called his dad.  I only heard Bud's side of the conversation, but I could surmise what was happening on the other end, as his dad tried to assess the situation, seize the teachable moment, and affirm that the consequences were warranted and fair.  But, what I heard from Bud was this:

"I lost my computer today."

pause to listen to dad

"Well... because I made a bad choice."

shorter pause

"I hit Mom."

longer pause

"I'm going to be nice to her from now on."

Bud and his dad continued to process the events of the afternoon, while I sat at the table slack-jawed, deconstructing what I'd just heard him say.

First:  "I lost my computer today."

He didn't say "Mom took my computer" - which really would have meant "I am a victim of circumstance"  or "A terrible injustice has been done to me." 

No.  He said, "I lost my computer today."  In other words, he said, "I am responsible for what happened today."  He said, "I did something that caused something else to happen."

In this story, as Bud told it, the main character, the subject, the one who owned the action, was Bud himself. 

Then:  "I made a bad choice."

He didn't say "I was bad."  He didn't internalize the action and allow it to chip away at his sense of self.  He isolated the event, framing it not as who he is, but simply as what he did

But it was even more than that.  He didn't say, as I've often heard him say, "I did a wrong thing."  He took it a step further and acknowledged that as the event unfolded, he had choices.  He acknowledged that he didn't make the best choice and that he could have made a different one.

Then:  "I hit Mom."

Bingo.  In three words, he acknowledged that he knew exactly what caused him to lose his computer - exactly where the line was - exactly when he made the wrong choice.

And finally:  "I'm going to be nice to her from now on."

In other words, "I know what the other choices look like."  "I know that I have another chance to make a different choice."  "I know that our relationship will remain intact."

By the time Bud went to bed, he was no longer talking about his computer.  He was reading books and going through his normal nighttime routine, complete with cuddling and kisses, and completely devoid of hard feelings.

He understands why things unfolded the way they did today.  He trusts that he will get his computer back, as promised, tomorrow.  He knows how to avoid a similar situation in the future.

It was a hard afternoon for Bud and me.  I know Bud struggled without his beloved computer.  I know that it was a hard and meaningful loss to him.

But it sure felt like an educational, developmental, milestone-marking win to me.


Pia said...

Hope is all I ask for. Hope is what you give me.

jess said...

holy hell, woman. i bow to you both.

i'm sorry it's so damn hard, but man, you two do it right.

Alysia said...

Um, wow. This just about sums up what us parents do, isn't it? We find the hope and progress in the hardest moments.

I'm sorry it was so hard for you and Bud. But I'm hopeful for a more peaceful tomorrow.

gail said...

This is huge. Although it was tough, such learning and growing was shown.

Anonymous said...

That is huge progress for sure! I can absolutely relate, not to the progress but to the things Bud could have and did say in the past. It is encouraging to know that time and patience and perseverance DO make a difference! Thanks so much.

farmwifetwo said...

I have a 13yr old "passing for normal" ASD son that can't get to that point. Ironically, the severe, non-verbal ASD 10yr old gets it.

The lines have never wiggled in 13yrs but he is incapable of taking responsibility for himself and his actions. The Counsellor is coming this fall to help at school.

This is "normal" for HFA and ADHD children, but it's extremely frustrating.

Your son should be proud of himself, that he understands and can take responsibility and make choices. It's hard to learn for some. I admit it, I'm envious.

Christine said...

I can only guess that Bud was using that kind of language because you are modeling it for him. This didn't come out of nowhere and so kudos to you AND Bud!! You two make a most excellent team!!!

MKosmicki said...

WOW, What a day! It's those difficult milestones that are so worth it.

I'm just sitting here wanting to do a happy dance for all of you. But I'll send you a giant cyber HUGZ instead. :-)

GB's Mom said...


Stimey said...

Huge. It is so great to see awareness like this. It sucks that you both had to go through a rough day, but hooray for silver linings.

Jordan said...

You two are fantastic. Beautiful. xoxo

Anonymous said...

Please let this be the last choice of that nature. I'm glad you made it to the other side.

Mama D said...

I just got chills. Sounds like you handled the situation with grace and understanding, and how wonderful for Bud that he has reached this point in awareness and acceptance of responsibility!

~Amie~ said...

That would be a great ending to a terrible oldest is getting better, but still has a long way to the taking credit for his own actions and understanding why I would take his laptop etc. Kudos!

Dixie Redmond said...

Go Bud and Go Mom. Thank you for writing this.

Unknown said...

Thanks so much for gives me hope...I also know that I'm not alone. My son and I do this everyday . You just gave me strength that I forgot I had.

Unknown said...

I really admire your perspective. It is really nice to hear from a parent who is so clear on concepts such as consistency and fair consequences (that are enforced appropriately!) I have yet to work with a parent as thoughtful as you. Awesome!

Michi Ball / Prairie Prims said...

While not trying to discount your elevated challenges nor discounting all your great parenting! These same expectations, teachings, and consistencies are not being reached by average parents with average parenting challenges! I'm proud of you! Parents at large should be reading and learning from this! Write a book girl!
Mom of two great kids!

Kermo said...

I admire you for being able to find and hang onto the beauty in this difficult situation.

KAL said...

That is huge in my book. (And I cannot believe Bud is 13!)

Esther said...

I found your blog on the Autism Hub. I'm a newbie to Autism. My child is 3. However, you're insight is very encouraging. Keep blogging. :)

heather outlaw said...

This is a warming story. I know it was a hard afternoon, but I wish more parents that I work with would take the time to see the little victories that unfolded in your story. Thank you for sharing and congrats to Bud for beginning to internalize all of the skill sets he has been taught.

Sharon said...

My 6yo son has sensory processing issues and is gifted, which looks a whole hell of a lot like Aspergers if you didnt know better. He has those frequent meltdowns at the end of the school day too, because having to try to control the uncontrollable becomes all to much. The other morning he said "I keep getting in trouble for fiddling with my container at fruit time. Can we do something different so i dont keep fiddling?" That was one of those jaw-meet-floor moments too. I LOVE it when they get it, get themselves.

That's a huge shift, from blame to responsibility, for your son. Kudos for you and the obvious hard work you put in.

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