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Monday, August 13, 2018

Impulse Control And Autism Can Be A Frustrating (And Scary) Combination

One of the perks of my day job is that I occasionally get invited by local hotels to tour their meeting and conference space. The tour almost always ends with a small gift - usually a mug or a pen or a bag of candy or fresh baked cookies, but sometimes if they're really trying to land my business I get a gift certificate for a complimentary night at the hotel. I was awarded two of these at two different hotels last fall and held onto them since they're good for an entire year. Both of these hotels have pools that are outdoor only and Lord knows David loves to swim.

Going to a hotel is a real treat for us because it's not something we get to do often. A couple of weeks ago, I decided to cash one in and away we went for a day of fun and sun and splashing coupled with walking around the local mall and plans to see a movie after we checked out the next day.

Day one was a little dicey. I'm guessing the puberty hormones are hitting him hard, but David is coming into his high school years with a full measure of teen rebellion. He's argumentative in the extreme, to the point where he's picking fights about the most mundane things - which of course aren't mundane to him because they're whatever he's currently fixated on. Autism can kind of be a bitch that way. We had a bit of a talk before bedtime, and David was properly contrite as always. He begged me to give him a second chance for the next day, and I assured him as long as he showed me good behavior we would do some swimming in the morning before we checked out and then we would see our movie and have a very good day.

But it wasn't meant to be. We got to the pool and David was in good spirits. It was a very warm day and the pool was fairly busy due to the hotel being packed capacity with several weddings the night before. About a half an hour in, David pulled himself out of the water and walked over to me to ask me when we were planning on having our usual couple of days at the beach this summer. I had booked us a camping cabin at a small campground we've been to before down by our favorite beach, so I gave David the dates that we were planning on going.

For whatever reason, David decided those dates were unacceptable. He wanted us to go the week before - which wasn't possible because I needed another paycheck between us and that mini vacation. I explain that to him but it wasn't good enough. He was getting angrier and angrier, continuing to argue with me to get me to change my mind. When he realized that wasn't going to happen, he yanked his shirt off the chair next to me wadded it up and threw it in the water - all while shouting at me loudly. I very firmly told him to get in there and get that shirt out. I am not able to safely swim right now and cold water on my already painfully tight muscles is something I don't even want to contemplate.

He refused and stomped away. And yes of course, everyone at the pool was staring at us. I'm used to the stink-eye stares of parents who think I've got a discipline problem on my hands. They're not wrong. But they also don't understand the best way to handle this kind of discipline problem without making it worse. So I kept a careful eye on David and didn't try to chase him down, giving him a few moments to calm himself before we took up this conversation again. Another guest was kind enough to toss his shirt back out to me. I wrung the water out as best as I could with one hand that doesn't work too well.

Just as I was about to call David over to me, he gave me a dirty look from across the pool and stomped into the wooden changing cabana they had on that side. He then began loudly slamming the door again and again and again. Yelling at me is one thing, but potentially harming someone else's property is not even remotely tolerable. I walked over there as quickly as I could and I informed him that I was really really not happy with him, we were looking at an early bedtime (a fate worse than death to David) and that we were leaving the pool immediately.

That went over about as well as you think it would. David immediately began crying loudly, shrieking at me, flailing his arms - and now people were staring at us with a look on their faces that I'm starting to see more and more of. This isn't the "lady control your kid" look. this is the "Oh my God, this guy is crazy, is he going to hurt her? Is he a danger to my kid?" look. 

You see, David is nearly fifteen now. He's two inches taller than me and outweighs me by a good thirty pounds and he is loud. Very, very loud. I had to get him out of there before we got thrown out by the hotel. I finally had to lie to him and tell him we were going to miss our movie if we didn't leave right away. That got him moving, and he dried off and dressed quickly. Once we got to the car I told him the truth: there would be no movie. There would be an early bedtime. And once he calmed down he and I were going to have a talk about good behavior and respect and consequences. At least this time the windows were up in the car as he raged.

I made the mistake of reaching out to touch his arm and he swatted at me, knocking my hand. It stung, but it wasn't terribly painful. David was immediately full of remorse. I'm honestly not sure what's more difficult - dealing with him in a rage, or dealing with him screaming about his own self loathing, telling me he's "nothing" over and over again, telling me he should leave and never come home because he's a worthless human being.

By the time we got home he had calmed down. He even unloaded the dishwasher and vacuummed for me without me even having to ask. Guilt can be useful sometimes I suppose (spoken like a true mother right?). We don't have many days like this but all it takes is one to remind me of how precarious things can get sometimes. David is becoming a young man. Any leeway people were willing to give him for bad behavior when he still look like a child has evaporated. Now all they see is a young man whose built like a bull and the rage he's emitting.

So I have to keep reinforcing these lessons and reinforcing them hard. I can't have him thrown out of places, and I can't have him making the people around us uncomfortable or afraid. Most of all I can't risk some angry bystander, parent, or worse, police officer confronting him. I’m not always going to be there to run interference. David has got to learn to self-regulate.

 It’s all part of the learning process, but it’s exhausting and frustrating for both of us.

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