Thursday, January 05, 2012

A Growing Problem: Curbing Anger

Joey is getting big. Like, big. He's nine and a half, and he's going to be a big man- even if I get his weight under control. We are starting to really understand the issues that come with being the parent of an autistic young man. For one, if he loses control, he could really hurt somebody. Like me. Or like Andy.

I know I often leave off the blacker side of living with Joey, and trying to help him, but I am realizing that many more of us are dealing with issues of temper and anger than perhaps we want to admit. It is a challenge to teach any child about controlling frustration and expressing anger in ways that are constructive rather than destructive. Trying to teach one that has issues with communication in the first place? Then add a daub of impulsiveness to it? Now add some not-so-healthy depression? Holy. Freaking. Cow.

Honestly, I am finding myself at a loss. Trying to discuss the issue with Joey is a super challenge that I am finding myself struggling to meet. Joey does not cope with criticism well, and starting the spiral into "I'm a bully! I'll never...!" makes it that much harder to try to get him to understand; and until I can get him to understand, I'm not sure how I can get him to help me understand.

I know that didn't make much sense. What are we trying to understand?

Both of my kids use communication system we call Engine Run to help others understand how they are feeling, to get in tune with their own regulation issues, and learn to self-regulate and manage. Basically, you think of your emotional state and body as a car. If your engine runs too high, you can crash or go flying off a cliff, or get into a speed-related accident. Not good. If your engine runs too low, you block up traffic, people honk at you, and you don't get where you need to go. You want to get your engine running just right. Then, the program works on teaching kids what kinds of sensory integrative activities and strategies help them for when they are running too high or too low.

My problem is when Joey goes from running a little on the high side to running white-hot HOLY MOLY and crashes off the cliff, what do I do? And how do I prevent it from happening again? Or at prevent him from hurting himself or anyone else? This is a question not only of what to do in the white-hot moment (restraint), but also prevention (de-escalation).

The other day, we came home and he was upset with me. I can't even tell you about what now, probably I had to take a toy or a stick from him. What I remember is standing at the door of my house, trying to turn the key, and getting pummeled. Absolutely pummeled. I had enough sense to get his arms and keep him from running off down the street, getting the door open, and screaming for help from JoeyAndyDad. Being chubby likely saved me from having major damage to my arm, he was slamming me with his fists so hard. I'm surprised none of the neighbors called the police. We got him inside and into his room. We got Andy inside and checked on him, because talk about scary! And of course, ten minutes later, Joey had another melt because he realized what he had done, and that I was hurt. All I could do was hug him, and get him through another round of "I'm a horrible boy!", which can only be countered with assurances otherwise, and lots of assurances of love.

But I knew right then, I was in trouble. Deep trouble.

I have had to ban Mario Brothers from the house for a while. Both boys get so over-excited that it becomes dangerous. They play away fine, and then some small issue rears its ugly head, and danger strikes. Someone gets hit. Someone gets kicked. Joey flew at Andy an bit him so hard on the shoulder he left a bruise- I'm surprised he didn't draw blood. It was like watching a tiger attack, and just as lightning-fast... and terrifying. And horrible. How does one get across the seriousness of this behavior, and the need for it to end RIGHT NOW? Getting him to calm down was my first response, but nothing I could think of seemed adequate. Sure, I banned the game. Sure, I shut down the Wii, hid the DS, sent him to his room, brought him down for a talk. Andy was already apparently past the whole thing by the time Joey was calm enough to speak reasonably. But he could have been seriously hurt.

It's a growing problem. And as he grows, and we stare puberty in the face, I fear this isn't going to get better any time soon... unless I act now. And even then, it may not be enough.