Monday, July 30, 2012

Chairs and Swings

We had a lovely visit with our RDI consultant Christine yesterday. We love it when we get to meet in person as it always gives us new motivation and energy to keep running our marathon. We have days with our RDI program that we just "don't feel like it" and those days are the ones where we need to remember that it is a long process, but if we are diligent we (and Morgan) will succeed.

Yesterday we had a great lesson in limit-setting. It was something that Christine was going to bring up that session, but just was we were getting started a perfect opportunity presented itself to us. As we were sitting down, I decided to give Morgan and Piper some cookies and milk before their "quiet time." As I placed the cookies on their small play table they both went for the same chair. Piper got there first, but Morgan tried to sit on it too and grabbed at Piper's cookies. Chaos ensued and somehow I was able to extract Morgan from the seat and give Piper her cookies back. Thus the major meltdown began. Morgan refused to sit on the other chair. I sat there and held her a bit and tried to get her to settle down, but she'd already passed the point of no return.

Christine jumped in and gave us some advice. She reminded us that Morgan was mad, but she was OK. She also told me not to coddle her as she needed to learn to "self-regulate" on her own. Children with autism do not do this easily. So, then I slowly backed off and let Morgan sit by herself on the floor. Meanwhile Piper finished her snack and David took her upstairs to her room. As happens when Morgan is upset, she also went upstairs to her room on her own. This is a kind of coping mechanism she uses. We had originally planned on keeping Morgan with us during the session, so once Piper was in bed, David coaxed Morgan back downstairs. Christine had started to review some material with us and I had placed myself in the chair that Piper had been sitting in. Morgan's snack was still there, so at that point she could choose to sit and eat...but she didn't. She saw me sitting there and got very upset again. She had not really calmed down upstairs, so it didn't take much to set her off. She went back and forth between trying to push me off the chair and just lying on the floor crying. Christine told us to leave her be. We could remind her at times that her snack was there, but she needed to try to calm down by herself.

Christine told us this was not about Piper, the cookies, or even the chair specifically... it was about control. I then realized that most times I give them cookies for snack Morgan does sit in that particular chair. Why? I don't know. It just is. There are plenty of times she sits on the other chair, but somehow she has it in her head that for eating cookies she must sit in that chair, on that particular side of the table. She was being unreasonably rigid about this. This is something kids with autism do. Certain things must be done certain ways...and if we let them, the rigidity will continue or possibly get worse. The fact that we held our ground with this threw her into a tailspin of uncertainty and anxiety. It was the unknown and it made her very upset. Now, most people can rationalize that it's just a chair and if you sit somewhere else, the world will not end...but Morgan cannot yet do this. Her brain short-circuits somehow and tells her that something is not right. Then she goes into fight or flight mode. Another important point is that at no point did we take away her cookies and milk. They were there for her if she chose to eat them, but she could not sit in the chair she wanted. After a period of time, and it was quite a while, as we continued to work with Christine on some other items and viewed some videos, Morgan eventually calmed down, sat in the (previously rejected) chair and ate her snack. Success!

This is something that we need to tackle now. Setting limits in these situations will help Morgan to slowly learn that doing things differently is OK. This is more of that "dynamic" intelligence we are working on. Morgan cannot live in her "static" world, she needs to become more flexible in her actions and her thinking to allow her to grow emotionally and socially. Christine shared an example of a thirteen year old boy she worked with who at that age was still very rigid in his thinking. There were circumstances at school where this very thing happened. He wanted a particular chair, and he physically pushed another child off it. At that point, being bigger and stronger, this is viewed as extremely aggressive and is not only unacceptable, it's stigmatizing for the child. Now is the time to work on this and help Morgan not only be less rigid, but when she gets into a meltdown mode, to help her to quickly "regulate" her thoughts and feelings so she doesn't react in a negative way.

We had another great example of this today at church. While playing on the playground after the service Morgan wanted me to push her on the swing. I did this for quite a long time, then switched with David when I had to use the restroom. When I came back Piper was taking a turn on a different swing (Morgan was still on hers) and she wanted me to push her. When I started to push Piper, Morgan got very upset and refused to let David push her. We told her that she could stay on the swing, but Mama was pushing Piper this time. Again, for whatever reason, she was trying to control the situation and we had to set the limit to not allow her to be so rigid. She sure stuck to her guns though and eventually David had to pick her up off the swing and carry her to the car to go home. She cried the whole time and even once we were heading home she kept asking to go back to the playground. She did calm down on the ride once she realized we were not giving in.

It is so easy to accommodate in many ways to keep everyone "happy", but we now realize for Morgan this is detrimental to her development. I know there are many times in the day that I ask Piper to do things that are really unfair to her to make Morgan happy. And sometimes I do the same thing for Piper. We will be working on better recognizing these opportunities for Morgan to learn to increase her flexibility. I think it's a benefit for Piper as well as she cannot get away with some of her two, almost three-year old behaviors just because we want to keep the peace. Christine said to expect it to get worse before it gets better, but if we are diligent we should see things get better after several weeks.

Please pray for us! :-)

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