Thursday, March 31, 2011

Telling the truth is hard

It’s conferences week so we have a different school schedule. Changes in routine are almost always a recipe for disaster. At some point I knew a behavioral episode was bound to happen. And it did. I expect things like this, but never know exactly how they will occur. Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised when there’s been a change in routine and don’t see any transitional issues in either kid. I guess we weren’t so lucky this week. This time the issue is telling the truth.
Monkey lied. It’s not the first time and I know it won’t be the last. But, then he stole. And, then he lied some more. Now, a day later? It seems to be chronic. I mean, aren’t kids on the spectrum supposed to be truth-tellers? High-functioning adults on the spectrum are sometimes considered blunt or rude to neurotypicals because they tell it like it is. There is no euphemistic filter. If the truth hurts, suck it up. It’s the truth and they’re going to tell you all about it. Well, we have quite the opposite here. The lying is becoming pathological and it’s unacceptable from anyone, much less an 8-year old.
Things really escalated yesterday when I left the room for a moment. As I was coming back into the room, I heard the thudding of fast-moving feet on the floor. It was Monkey and he had a guilty look on his face.
Me: “What’s going on?”
Monkey: “Nothing.”

I saw him look over at a small stack of cash I had left out on a table next to my laptop. I touched the stack of money, noticing it was no longer in a neat pile.

Me: “Did you touch the money?”
Monkey: “No, but he took one of your $20 bills,” referring to his little brother.
Me: “Oh, he did? And where did he put it?”
Monkey: “In his room.”
Me: “So if I walked into his room right now, where would I find it?”
Monkey paused for a moment as he tried to figure out what to say.
Me: “I think maybe he didn’t take it and maybe you did. If I walked into your room right now, would I find it?”
Monkey quietly said, “Yes.”
Me: “Go get me the money and bring it back please.”
Monkey had folded the $20 bill into a little square so he could hide it, and then stashed it in a place that was visually inaccessible to me. He brought me the money and unfolded it.

“It makes me very sad to know that you stole money from me. And, do you know what makes me even sadder? This money wasn’t even for me. It was for my group. You know the group where I have meetings and talk with other moms and dads? This money is for some new books for the group. So, when you stole the money, you were stealing from other people, too. And, that makes me sad that you thought that was okay.”
Monkey: “Well, I got a twenty dollar bill as a gift and I don’t know what happened to it. I just wanted my $20 back.”
“Honey, you spent it. When you got the money, I put it in the bank for you so you wouldn’t lose it. I told you I was going to do that. Then, we went to the store and you bought several toys. When you bought all of your stuff, you spent the $20 that was in the bank.”
“No, I had a gift card and I never spent the $20!”
“You didn’t have enough money on the gift card to buy all the stuff you wanted. We talked about that when we were at the store. You decided to spend your gift card and also the extra $20 that was in the bank. So that’s what we did. That money is gone now. You spent it on stuff like your Monopoly game.”
Monkey stood in an argumentative silence. He was remembering, but still wanted to feel justified for his actions. I could tell that he was not convinced that what he did was wrong.

Me: “So, we have a problem here. You stole money and then you lied about it. You know stealing is not okay and you know that lying is not okay. You must always tell the truth! That’s our rule and it’s on the board in your room. You have a goal for this. Because you made the choice to lie, you won’t be earning a magnet for your truth goal today. Now, what do you think Dad is going to say about this? Maybe we should call him and you can tell him what’s going on.”
Monkey was sad for losing his goal magnet and appeared to be on the verge of tears. However, I know him. He wasn’t sad about stealing or lying, he was sad about losing his magnet. Earning magnets is the key for him to get a reward at the end of the week for reaching his goals. He was more concerned about losing his reward than what his actions were.
We called my husband at work and talked out what happened and set a punishment. Monkey lost his privileges to play with his electronics during quiet time and instead had to spend the time writing me a letter of apology about what he did and why it was wrong. I also gave him a book to read about telling the truth that I had just picked up at the bookstore only 2 days before. Perfect timing, I suppose. 
Writing an apology letter was not an easy task for Monkey. He was unhappy with his punishment and wanted to make sure I knew how unhappy he was. The first letter read:
Dear Mom,

I’m so sorry I stole your group’s money. I’m to take blame for what happened. Why it started? Well first, I sneaked up to it, then I took a $20 from the group, last I put it on my shelf.

Fooey on you,
P.S. I want MY money back.      
I was so hopeful when I began to read the letter and was disappointed to see it go up in flames at the end. I sent him back to his room to try it again after we talked about why the letter was not acceptable. Here is the second letter he gave me:
Dear Mom:

I’m sorry I had to restart my dumb letter to you. Why did I do it? Because. On purpose, I wanted to make you mad.

P.S. I’m done with these letters and I mean it.
His mouth curved up a little like he’s intensely satisfied watching me read the letter. I’m not enjoying it one bit. I work hard to make sure I remain as expressionless and calm as possible while I talk with him about it. He is a master of feeding off of my frustration, escalating his behavior just to see if my level of frustration will increase with it. It’s a game and he’s great at it. He’s done it many times before, and that’s a spiral I don’t want to get caught up in because it never ends well. I sent him back to his room a third time to write the letter again. Here is what he came back with:
Dear Mom,

I’m sorry I stole your money. Why? I took a twenty dollar bill and put it on my shelf.

P.P.S. I’m so so sorry.
I asked him to add another post-script and tell me why it was wrong. He came back with:
P.S. (Again) It wastes other people’s cash.
And he added in small letters at the top of the page: So furious about this!
Yeah. He was done with the letter and frankly, so was I. Four times was enough. 
There’s more to talk about, but I’m going to save that for next time. Sorry to leave you hanging, but this story is To be continued…  
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