I am angry.
My anger is so intense I feel sick…I want to punch something…and I am not a violent person. But today Braden did something that embarrassed me and made it so people who we liked, and who liked him, no longer trust him. In fact, I think they fear him.
Mike had an after school meeting. Usually, when he has one of these, Braden and I do one of a few things: go to the pool, get a foot massage, or go on a bike ride. It rained most of today, and the thought of sitting by the pool on wet chairs didn’t appeal to me, and for that matter, neither did riding a bike through puddles. So I made the decision to take Braden for a foot massage.
Braden likes massages. He is a “sensory seeker” and craves deep pressure; it has a calming effect on him. In China, we had a great place to go for our massages. All of the employees knew and loved Braden and took great care of him as we went for our weekly “footies.” Remember that massages are cheap in Asia, so this really isn’t an extravagance; more like just a part of our weekly routine and therapy for Braden. Anyway, I remember being so sad when we left our buddies at “Head to Toe” and moved to Bangkok. I knew we could never find a place where they liked Braden as much as Jeffrey and the gang at H2T.
But we did…and we found it almost the first week here. The ladies at this new salon adored Braden. Each time we’d visit, they’d run next door to 7-11 and buy him snacks. They would laugh and treat him royally; sometimes we’d look over and there’d be two women massaging his feet. Too funny. In January, their business closed. They could no longer afford the rent.
We soon found a new salon and these people liked us and accepted Braden. So that’s the place we have gone the past few weeks. We had a few questions and strange looks at the beginning, but it got to the point where they all recognized Braden and would smile when we would arrive. Some of the ladies would joke with him, and it all seemed okay again.
I know what you might be thinking. “Is she seriously rambling about massage parlors?” Shoot, I don’t blame you, but when you think of it as therapy, as we do, then you understand the importance.
Back to today.
I take Braden to “our place” and he steps in. He heads straight to the bathroom (not uncommon for him). I sit down, take out my computer and prepare to work on a presentation I have to give soon. Ahhh…I think…one full hour to work. That’s when I hear the crash. I run to the bathroom and see it.
He has taken the back off of the toilet and smashed it to pieces on the floor.
I look around and see the look of shock and horror on all of the nice ladies’ faces. They say, Mai pen rai (No problem) in Thai. But it is a problem. A huge problem. This is their business…it’s how they live, and my son goes in and breaks the toilet…on purpose!
I tell them I will pay for it. I also have a man explain in Thai that I will pay for it. They agreed. They will contact someone tomorrow and then let me know how much I owe them. It will be expensive as they don’t just replace the backs of toilets here. They replace the whole toilet. How do I know this? Why do I have such expertise in these matters?
He’s done it before…many times.
That sick feeling I’m experiencing right now? I used to feel it all the time. Literally…all the time. Braden used to break things or have terrible behaviors in public every single day. I never wanted to go out in public as I was never really sure what he would do. I wish I could say all his behaviors have been harmless, but they haven’t been.
I vividly remember a time visiting a friend in Singapore, when all of the sudden, he slipped from my grasp, ran to the balcony, picked up a plant, and threw it over to the ground. The next thing I the know, the manager is there taking pictures and telling me we have to leave. Soon enough, the police arrive and tell me the same thing. We are not welcome there. I get it. Braden could have seriously injured or possibly killed someone with that maneuver. I still look back to that day and feel so incredibly disturbed. I am good at playing the “what-if” game.
Another night in China…our guard knocks on the door and signals that something is going on outside. We follow him. On the ground, what do we see? ALL of Madison’ trophies from elementary school thrown to the ground from our 2nd-floor apartment…smashed to bits. Madison cries and says, “All my memories…they’re just gone.”
Behaviors happen for a reason. Whenever Braden or another child does a “behavior,” I immediately try to figure out the function of that behavior. What could the child need that would cause him to do such a thing? Usually, the reasons for behaviors are to A. Gain something or B.Escape something.
What could a child gain from a behavior? Lots of things: attention from a caregiver, sensory input, food if hungry, etc.
And what would they try to escape? Completing an unwanted task, fear of a certain person, sensory input (such as loud sounds, offensive smells), etc.
If you figure out the function of a behavior, you can usually provide the child with a substitute behavior which will meet the need, but do so in a more acceptable manner.
For instance, if a child is biting…what is the function? Could it be sensory seeking (that proprioceptive input that provides joint compression?) If it’s sensory seeking, then you could provide the child with a chewy toy or give them a crunchy food that stimulates the same joints.
The biting could be that a child is angry at another child because the child took the toy away from him. But maybe this child with autism doesn’t have the communication skills to say something, so he bites instead. When in this type of situation, we could provide the child with a different way to communicate (a picture exchange card or an iPad program that says something like, “Stop. That is mine.”)
Sometimes determining the function of the behavior is quite easy. You look at what happened before the behavior started (the Antecedent), track the actual behavior, and then figure out what happened after the child had the behavior (the Consequence).
A(Antecedent): Jake was laughing and smiling.
B(Behavior): Jake bites John.
C(Consequence): John cries. Jakes gets taken to timeout.
As you track the behavior, in time you’ll see that the antecedent doesn’t really match the behavior, so the need must be to gain something…in this case…sensory input. It feels good to bite John.
Sometimes, however, it takes a really long time to figure it out.
A (Antecedent)Art teacher tells the students to clean up because class is over.
B (Behavior) Susan tears up another student’s work.
C (Consequence) Susan misses math class as she has to spend time with the principal.
This behavior continues all week. The consequence is always the same. Why is Susan happy throughout art class, but has a behavior as soon as it’s time to clean up? Well, through some digging, it was determined that Susan despises math class. She is doing this behavior to escape or avoid math class.
So here I am. I love looking at student behavior and trying to determine the function. Seriously, I love it. I would love if that was my full-time job at school.
But I can’t figure out this behavior of Braden’s. Why does he throw the backs of toilets? I know he knows it makes us angry. So he definitely gets our attention. I was just getting ready to do some work on my computer. Was that why he did this? I don’t think so. He has also done this at school, and I’m not there.
Why is he doing it? Does he get some sort of sensory input, some release from this? If so, how on earth do we find a replacement behavior, especially when I don’t know it’s coming?
I get frustrated with Braden’s behaviors because I can’t figure them out. All the other kids I work with? No problem…it’s usually pretty easy.
As I write this, I do understand that this may be difficult for some of you to read. And I’m okay with that. I think it’s important for people to understand that parenting a child with severe autism is at times wonderful and at times…well, just damned hard.
My hope is that this doesn’t scare any of you away. While Braden demonstrates some behaviors that are unacceptable, it doesn’t make him a bad person.
Behaviors happen for a reason.
Behaviors happen for a reason.
Behaviors happen for a reason.
Can you all say that with me? Behaviors happen for a reason.
Five bucks goes to the person who can guess the reason.
And, can you all help us find a new massage place?
Please leave me a comment.