Friday, July 1, 2011

Mad Science and Siblings

 Safety Guy playing with corn starch and water yesterday (i.e. GOOP). 
He played with this for almost an hour while watching Mythbusters.


"Yesterday was a good day; 
it's after midnight and I've got you on my mind. . . ."

Well, the song isn't exactly applicable, but yesterday was a good day for my family.  We got stuff done, and nobody had a meltdown or a major crisis.  Victory!  But even more than that, I had a long conversation with Princess Yakyak about her brother Safety Guy.  It started like this, while waiting for him to finish some testing at Sylvan:

PYY:  "Mom, does [Safety Guy] have special needs?"
Me:  "Yes, he does."

No point in denying it; we never have.  But now that PYY is getting older, and maturing past her brother because of his Aspergers, she's been asking some remarkably good questions about him.  Her question about his special needs led us to discuss how he sees the world, and why he gets so upset or anxious sometimes.  Our very perceptive daughter used a plastic construction set to illustrate what we were talking about.

Me:  "Your brother gets upset when things don't go the way he expects.  Routine and predictability make him feel safe.  Things that don't go the way he expects make him anxious and scared.  That's part of Aspergers and autism in general - people with it feel safest when things go the way they expect."
PYY:  "You mean, when he thinks we're going to one thing and we have to do another and he gets upset, that's autism?"
Me:  "That's right.  Or when something breaks - to him that's just WRONG, and it really upsets him."
PYY:  "So these pieces are the way he thinks.  When they fit together, he's okay.  When they don't fit, he's unhappy."
Me:  "Right!"

She proceeded to lay out a grid of pieces, and I showed her how a "wrong" piece threw off the whole pattern. She was stuck on the pattern idea for a while as we talked, designating parts of the grid she'd made as parts of Safety Guy's life, people and places, and showing how pieces (situations/events) either fit neatly or didn't fit right, and suggesting ways he would react to the mismatches.  I told her that when the pattern was wrong, he found it to be very upsetting.  The pattern of his life, the routine, when things go the way he expects, feels safe and comfortable to him.  A messed-up pattern makes him feel anxious or scared.  Sometimes he acts angry, when he's really scared or frustrated. 

PYY:  "Wow.  I didn't think of that."
Me:  "Can you imagine what the world is like for him?  When things are going fine, he's fine, but when what he expects doesn't happen, the world becomes a very scary place for him.  Imagine what it's like for him to live in a world where he doesn't understand people very well, and he thinks things keep changing on him."
PYY:  "I didn't know that.  That must be scary."

We also talked about situations that make Safety Guy anxious:  cafeterias, gyms, amusement parks, large crowds (anything crowded, noisy, and unstructured), or when plans get changed at the last minute, or when things break.  She remembered the difficulty he had at an amusement park last summer, and she knows the trouble he had on the school bus earlier in the year.  She's seen him have countless meltdowns over computers and video game equipment not working the way he expects.  I told her that was the reason Safety Guy usually has some comfort item with him wherever he goes - his MP3 player, or a pocket full of Hot Wheels cars.  They help him calm down when he's stressed.  She seemed to be looking at Safety Guy with new eyes as we talked.

We also talked about the randomness of people.  He's spent her whole life trying to control her, much to her frustration and annoyance.  I told her that he can't control anyone, but that he always has this urge to try because if he could control others, he'd be able to predict what they'd say or do, and so he'd feel safer.  I pointed out to her that when she threatens to hit him, he overreacts because he believes she'll do it and it messes up his "safe zone."  It's just like with the bullies at school.  Princess Yakyak didn't like the comparison, but she got the point.

It was an eye-opening conversation, for both of us.  She's ready to really learn to understand her brother, and hopefully she'll show more compassion and be able to help him navigate through life as he gets older.  Yes, sibling crap will still happen - I'm not Pollyanna - but over time, I hope that she'll grow to be his advocate instead of his adversary.  And I realize that she's growing up even faster than many girls her age, because of her brother.  That makes me sad sometimes.  Still, there's hope.