Monday, September 30, 2013

The need to punch someone

School started a few weeks ago and we are in the middle of the transitional time where the boys are getting used to their new schedule and they’re becoming acclimated to their new teachers and classrooms. It is always a challenge, but school is always such a welcome experience following the less-scheduled summertime.

Over the past couple of months I have noticed that the boys were starting to fight more. At first it was kind of cute in a way. This is because in the past they weren’t really interested enough in each other to spend the time and energy to play together, much less fight. Their autism experience meant they didn’t choose to have interactions with each other unless it was necessary.

As they began to have small arguments and sibling rivalry, I was excited for those neurotypical moments. In my mind, it was part of their development and they were learning what it meant to be brothers. They appeared to be going through something that all siblings go through when they just rub each other the wrong way simply because they live together in the same house day after day. I know what that’s like and so does everyone else out there that is not an only child.

Their fighting became more intense as the summer continued, and it also became physical. It got so bad that at the end of summer it seemed that we were dealing with daily screaming matches, hitting or kicking that always led to someone getting hurt or brought to tears, and the eventual slamming of doors and yelling through the walls to continue the argument from their different rooms after I had to forcibly separate them when I couldn’t take any more.

In many regards, Prince Charming has been the instigator of most the fights. Although, Monkey is not innocent and often pushes all the hot buttons that quickly trigger his little brother. You would think that Monkey would just clock Prince Charming because he has been training in karate for a year now. But, what I found was that Monkey would often fall victim to the aggression that came from Prince Charming when he had turned into a Grumpy Badger. Monkey wouldn’t defend himself and would eventually get hurt to some degree; but I’ve found that about half the time his “hurt” is for dramatic purposes in the hope that it will get his brother in trouble.

After a particularly rough week last week, I sat down with Prince Charming to have a talk about what had been going on between him and his brother. I had been thinking that some of the fighting had to do with his need for sensory input on his body (a.k.a. “proprioception”). He had been hitting his punching bag in his room a lot more recently, and I wasn’t sure if it was due to anger issues or sensory issues or both.

This is the punching bag
that Prince Charming uses.
He doesn't use the gloves.
(Affiliate Link)
We had a really nice chat, just the two of us, hanging out on my bed. I let him do most of the talking as I led with certain questions to try to open him up.

After a few minutes I asked him, “Honey, why do you keep hitting your brother?” 

The response I got was quite surprising.

“He makes a really great punching bag, Mommy.”

It struck me as funny and I immediately started to laugh. He got a case of the giggles because I was laughing, so we had a good chuckle for a moment.

Then I asked him, “What do you mean by ‘he makes a great punching bag’?”

“It feels good when I punch him.”

“So, do you like punching him to make him cry, or do you like the way it feels on your hand?”

“It feels good on my hand. He’s softer than my punching bag.”

“Oh, I understand! It makes your body feel good when you are hitting something, and hitting him feels nicer than hitting the punching bag.”


“I have an idea about something else you could do that might make you feel the same way but wouldn’t hurt your brother. Do you want to try it with me?”


He got really excited. I demonstrated how he could put couch cushions on the floor and try to punch straight down to see if he could feel the floor through the cushion. He showed me that he’d like to try it a different way than I suggested, and he was happy to try it out.

When we are in the throes of a bad day because the boys are fighting incessantly and I feel like I’m at the end of my patience and ugly mommy is going to pay a visit, it is so easy to automatically go to the behavioral side of the equation. But, if I hadn’t been paying attention, I would have missed the clues he gave me about the fact that his sensory needs were not being met.

Obviously it isn’t okay for him to hit or hurt his brother, and there are consequences for his actions when it happens. But, it was more than that. And, that’s the point. As parents of children with autism, we need to keep our eyes, ears, and minds open to the possibility that there is more going on than what we see in front of us. If we can seek clues that lead to the function of the behavior, we will be able to better work with our children in guiding them to a more appropriate outcome, and it will also help us keep our sanity intact for another day.

Friday, September 13, 2013

My experience with homelessness

Image Source

Never in my life did I expect to welcome a homeless man into my home to temporarily live with my family, but here we are.

For purposes of this blog, I’m going to call this man Jester because he’s a bit of a goofball. In the short time Jester has been with us, he has taught me a lot. First let me make a clarification, because I know you are wondering why we would make this kind of a choice.

Jester is a long-time friend of my husband’s. They had fallen out of touch years ago and had reconnected via my Facebook account a few years ago. Even though I had heard about him a lot in the past 16 years that my husband and I have been together, I had never met Jester until he moved in with us.

We got a call one night from him asking for help, and within an hour he was in our home. While Titan was out picking him up, I was hurriedly getting the kids into bed and prepping the house for his arrival, making sure there were clean sheets for him on our hide-a-bed, and that there was tea ready for all of us when they walked in the door. I knew it was going to be a long night of chatting, and I was right.

I was overwhelmed with his stories of the things he had been through, including a very recent and sudden separation from his wife. It was all so heartbreaking and surreal.

Growing up as a cop’s daughter, a healthy distrust is part of my nature. I often think of things with the filter of safety and security, and I obviously had concerns about whether or not I could trust this man to be with me and the boys while Titan was at work. Since Titan had zero worries, I knew we would be okay. Since then I have been working to systematically let go of my automatic mama bear reflex around him, and I feel like I’ve kept an open mind and have actually gotten to know him pretty well. He's a very nice guy and I can totally understand why he and my husband are friends.

When you look at him, you can see that life has been hard. When you hear his story, you can’t help but feel sorry for his experiences. I often find myself thinking about how I have reacted to homeless people in the past…with a very healthy dose of skepticism. Are their stories legitimate or are they fabricated to make you feel sorry for them? Are they trying to manipulate? Do they have good intentions? I will admit that all of those thoughts have crossed my mind in regard to Jester.

What I have found is that the boys absolutely love him. They ask if he will be home when they get back from school or when they wake up. One day when Monkey was getting off the bus, before I could even say “hi” to him, he asked me if Jester was here. When I said “yes” he was visibly relieved and excited to run into the house to find him. Seeing their pure love for him is really something, and I know it is having a positive impact on Jester.

I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason, and that even if you have bad experiences, those experiences will teach you something you need to know for later down the line. In other words, God has a plan, even if you don’t agree with it or understand it at the time. I can't help but feel this way for Jester and have shared that with him. As a Christian man, he also believes it to be true. And, even though it is adding financial strain to our lives to have him here, I am happy with our decision and have faith that God has a plan for us in this situation as well. 

Since Jester moved in, we have been helping him connect with resources, including things for veterans and for his old hobby and sport, karate. What we are finding is that some people really do have huge hearts. Jester is using his former black belt status to get him back into training, and he is being allowed to help teach classes at the dojo where Monkey takes karate. As it turns out, both Jester and Monkey's karate teacher studied at the same place when they were younger, so it’s a great fit. God has a way of working things out! 

Jester’s heart has been so lifted since we helped him make this particular connection, and he is thrilled to be doing something that he loves and that is so positive for not only him, but for others as well. It’s also been great for Monkey, because he gets to practice with Jester here at the house. Jester is eager to learn about autism and how to work with Monkey, and Monkey has made great strides with his technique in just the past few days. I think it will be a growth opportunity for both of them and they will learn a lot from each other.

I have no idea how long Jester will be with us, but we are taking it one day at a time. Jester has singlehandedly challenged all of my preconceived notions about homelessness. And, because some of the things he has gone through hit a bit close to home, he has also helped me realize how close we all can be to that kind of a situation. It really can happen to anyone. My perspective has grown and my boys seem to be enriched by the experience of having him here. 

Who knew that the arrival of a homeless man to my door would turn out to be a blessing in disguise?      

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