There are lots of books about raising autistic/ADHD/Asperger’s children. Usually the books are very clinical, describing the disorder and accompanying delays, along with some advice pertaining to toileting, communication, and education. Or the books are more myopic in nature, written by a parent with a limited perspective. There’s nothing wrong with these books, however, I find that none of them really provide the kind of advice I need.
Let me tell you a story.
Yesterday I picked up Connor and noticed that he was wearing the back-up shorts from his backpack. We talked on the way home and I learned that he’d had an accident at the after-school program. I was surprised, since this hasn’t happened in a very long time. I asked why he didn’t use the restroom, and he said “I just didn’t make it on time, mom.”
I felt so bad for him. It was easy to imagine the embarrassment he would feel, as a fourth grader. And we all know how mean other kids can be. “Poor kid,” I thought. I tried to put it out of my mind as we went about our nightly routine.
But today when I picked him up, a different story unfolded. I learned that the plumbing system was shut down all night, into this morning. Connor admitted to the teacher that he had flushed a piece of paper down the toilet, causing it to overflow and get him wet, and shut down the whole system.
We got in the car and I pulled to the side of the parking lot to ask him what happened. He told me there was a flier hanging in the bathroom that said “Always remember to flush after using the restroom.”
“Everyone always flushes the toilet, so that paper annoyed me. It doesn’t need to be there. It’s been there for a long time, and I wanted it gone so it wouldn’t annoy me anymore.”
*deep breaths, count to 10*
I said “can you explain to me what you were thinking when you decided to flush it down the toilet? I mean, didn’t you stop and think that it could plug up the toilet?”
“Mom, I just can’t help it. It’s my stupid brain, it works against me. It’s not my fault.”
This is where a parenting manual would come in handy because this is treacherous territory. I do not know what it’s like to have severe ADHD. I believe him when he says that his brain works against him, because who hasn’t felt that way at times? But the part about it not being his fault? As a parent, I can’t let that go. He is a very capable child, and I constantly navigate between providing the right amount of support and expecting a certain amount of accountability.
As I drove home, I puzzled over the right way to handle this situation. My kid, basically, said “fuck you and your signs, THIS is what I think of your signs!” and promptly caused a plumbing calamity. Of course I couldn’t help but remember that I work in a building with a few hundred people, and fliers are posted from one end of the building to the other, including the restrooms. Mentally, I refer to these fliers as “company propaganda.” Although we don’t have fliers reminding us to flush, we DO have fliers reminding us to wash our hands. I’ve stared at those papers hundreds of times, thinking how moronic it is to have to remind grown adults to wash their hands.
We got home and had a talk about consequences and the need to learn how to ask yourself questions when you’re in the middle of an impulsive thought. Things like, “Will this get me in trouble?” Or, “What else can I do if this annoys me?” And we talked about how, when he’s an adult, he will be expected to know how to deal with his impulses and take responsibility for his actions. Nobody will be tolerant of the excuse “it’s not my fault, it’s my stupid brain!”
And finally, I told him that there would be no computer or iPad until his behavior improved (because there have also been a number of smaller incidents this week.). He cried a little, but recovered quickly. I reminded him that he should feel lucky that TV wasn’t also taken away.
But damn, that parenting manual sure would have been handy today. I mean, who the hell knows how to handle crap like this? Yes, I know, he has impulse control problems and difficulty with forecasting events. I get it. But damn it, I’m not raising him to be coddled and willfully indulged, I’m raising him to be a competent adult. I’m not going to sell him short and think that he doesn’t have the capability, because I believe he does.
As I write this, I can’t get that damn song out of my head. You know the one…Signs, by Tesla (originally recorded by The Five Man Electrical Band). Here, enjoy it…