Christopher, my nephew on the autism spectrum, enjoyed his brother’s birthday at our house for about 80% of the evening. Here’s what happened in the remaining 20%.
#1. Christopher was pumped for the pizza and cake, but his primary focus was his “consolation” birthday gift, a Lego set he had requested. The whole Gang of Five got these consolation gifts; after all, if adults get attacked by envy, how much more kiddos facing some serious circumstances? When finally released to open presents, Christopher once again demonstrated his uncanny ability to construct complex Lego sets without directions. Already familiar with his skills, I had purchased a doozy of a set, hoping to slow him down a bit. That didn’t happen.
#2. The birthday boy was still tackling the first of two massive Lego sets while Christopher was distracted by Wii games and a movie.
#3. Now at the remaining 20% of the evening, Christopher approached his younger brother and in a roundabout way, asked if he could help. The younger sib was silent. I watched Christopher repeat this ineffectual questioning a few times, then intervened on his behalf by directly asking the sib if he would let Christopher help. No response. I repeated the question while Christopher darted past, rubbing his sib’s hair affectionately and calling him his “best buddy.”
#4. I’d never seen Christopher show any affection before. Only in hindsight could I see this as a ploy for getting his hands on the Lego set. The sib already knew what was happening and remained silent. We were now at the 10% mark, although I was unaware that we were on a countdown to meltdown. I brought things to a head by asking the sib to respond to Christopher, reminding the sib that he was on his 2nd major Lego set of the evening. At the same time, I gave the sib permission to say no. The sib said no.
#5. Christopher started dashing between two adjacent rooms, calling himself names and denigrating his abilities in multiple areas. Another ploy, this one for sympathy, but also reflecting genuine distress. He mentioned school problems, so I used that time to ask multiple questions which gave me insights into his difficulties there. Christopher apparently had no rehearsed strategy for calming. His level of agitation continued to increase so I told him to stay on the couch.
#6. At the 4% mark, Christopher was still on the couch, beginning to shriek. He repeated, “I’m scared! I’m scared!” at esacalating levels of hysteria. I said ineffectually, “You’re sad and mad, not scared.”
#7. 0% mark. Christopher left the couch and curled into a screaming ball of fury, right next to his sib. By then, his grandparents were ready to go home. This enraged young man somehow managed to deteriorate even further. I quietly suggested that a consequence be applied and at the thought of losing a chance to play Legos the next day, Christopher morphed into a limp, crying rag. We said goodnight and I started to think. Duh.
Next steps in my next post.