Teacher Professor

February 7, 2011

Not-so-Super Bowl

Filed under: Autism,OCD,Uncategorized — Teacher Professor @ 7:25 pm

I had planned on grading some of my students’ papers.

I had planned on getting cozy in my fuzzy robe and snuggling with James to watch the 2nd half.

I had planned on cheering the Steelers to victory- or maybe booing to a defeat.  But I wanted victory… We DID live for a while outside of Pittsburgh and I know what a difference a winning Steelers teams means to them.

What I had not planned on was spending most of the 4th quarter holding my son and rocking with him in the rocking chair as he raged against his anxiety that the Steelers would pull a come-from-behind victory.  I have to say that I was very, very glad that the Steelers lost the ball in the last minute rather than making a miraculous touchdown because it saved me hours of calming afterwards.

Ray has been fixated about football for about six months now.  He started with UGA football, and moved on to selecting teams based on his opposition to us- Emily wanted Auburn to win in the BCBS title championship- therefore he turned in a University of Oregon fan.  I was cheering for the Steelers- therefore he’s a Green Bay fan.  He selects teams based on how much he wants to be resistant to the person who is a fan.

We went to a friend’s house for the first half.  He was cute then.  He wasn’t as tired and he could interact with other football fans.  He and our neighbor engaged in man-talk- exchanging stats and information.  Rick was amused at Ray’s fervor, but Ray was coherent and it was funny.  We all enjoyed the commercials. The Packers had a clear lead. We mostly enjoyed the halftime show (although it appears we were in the minority).

It was a different story when we got home.  Ray was tired and less in charge of his emotions- and so the not-focus, not-fixation, but primary-purpose-for-being started. He was shaking in his anger at his dad when James verbally analyzed the game to determine how the Packers could lose.  And the Steelers started a come-back. And continued to improve.  And with a minute to go, victory was possible.  And so, we wound up in the rocking chair, where I kept repeating my mantra “It’s a game.  It’s only a game.  It’s a game… ”

I have never been so glad to see the Steelers lose as I was last night.  (Sorry, Pittsburgh friends!).  Football season is completely over for six months. And maybe Ray can find a new fixation.  Although Ray informs me that the NFL draft has started. sigh…

It hurts me to watch him wrestle with whatever it is that’s got him anxious.  I know that by trying to control a game, he’s trying to control his life.  I know that he’s trying to learn all he can about football so that, as in his life, he can predict the outcome.

An outcome- that as any Steelers fan will tell you- is uncertain.

January 20, 2011

The Cracked Pot

Filed under: Exceptionality issues,OCD,Tourette's Syndrome — Teacher Professor @ 11:16 am

There’s an old legend, told in many different cultures, about the cracked pot.

A water bearer has two pots that he uses to carry water to his master’s house- one perfect that carries a full load and one with a crack in it that leaks, so that by the time they get back up to the house, there is only half a load of water left.  The cracked one is ashamed about how he is flawed and cannot do what is asked of him.  One day, he shares his shame with the water bearer who asks the pot to pay attention to the world around him the next time they are to haul water.

On the way down to the river, the pot, empty like his partner on the other side of the water bearer’s shoulder, notices nothing- a worn path and a few weeds.  But on the way back, as the water bearer turns around and hauls water back up to the house, the pot notices beautiful wildflowers on that side of the path.

When he asked the water bearer what it meant, the water bearer said “I noticed long ago that you were cracked and could not carry your full load of water.  so, I planted wildflowers along your side of the path.  Every day, you have been watering those flowers that I then pick and bring to the master.  Without you, he would not have had that beauty in his life.”

I heard this story today at yoga- after a particularly horrible and trying day with Ray.  A day in which I lost my temper at him; a day where I wondered if we’ve really made an progress at all.  A day where I felt very much like that pot that was so cracked and frayed that I’m not sure there’s any water left in me at all.  I certainly don’t feel like I am able to do the job that I was given.

It hurts so much when Ray is “irritable”- a really vague word that doesn’t even begin to capture his oppositional behavior that is primarily focused at me.  When I ask “How was your day?” and he yells “WHAT DO YOU CARE?!”  “When I say “Actually, I do.  I’d like to hear about it,” and he grunts and turns his back on me.  When I ask him to close the cabinets and he growls at me, dropping something out of the cabinet on the floor as he closes them and leaving it there.  When he informs me, in a snarly tone,  that he’s going to go outside to play with his friend, and I inform him that no, he’s going to show me his homework before he goes anywhere, and he throws his assignment book at me.  It hurts when I inform him that he’s not going to play with his friend until he goes to time out and apologizes to me and when I ask him to tell me what the poor choice of behavior was, he yells at me “I DON’T KNOW!”  I’m ashamed to say that I shrieked back at him… and placed him forcefully in his room, after ripping his Nintendo DSi from his hands.

Time out was clearly for me, not for him.  When he came out, I asked him to show me his report card that was stapled to his assignment book.  “I DON’T WANT TO!” he yelled at me- clearly, time out didn’t work for him.  I got very clipped and informed him that he was, indeed, going to show me his report card and we would talk about it and he had earned another 10 minutes of time out and every time he was rude to me, he would earn another minute.

By the time we were done, he had “earned” 22 minutes of time out.  He couldn’t tell me why doing well in school was a good thing; he couldn’t tell me what he had done well in; he couldn’t even tell me why he got a lower grade in one subject.  He told me that “All that matters is the CRCT (state test).  Who cares about the report card?”  He growled at me, grunted at me, turned his back on me.  All while I knew that he was hungry- but refused to eat.  All while ticcing, so I know that his Tourette’s was really acting up, so I know that his system is all jangled.  All while refusing to answer any questions, have any discussion.

And get this- his report card?  All A’s with 1 B (in writing).  I told him that I wanted to celebrate with him- that I wanted to tell him how proud I was of him.  But that I couldn’t because of his behavior to me.  That I was happy to see how hard he worked at school, at which he then said “I DON’T WORK HARD.  This is EASY!”  If he’s this way over a good report card, what’s going to happen when he decides he’s done with it all and it’s a bad report card?

Which is why I again lost my cool, informed him that we expect him to work hard, and get good grades and that his behavior was NOT ACCEPTABLE and sent him away for his 22 minutes of time out.  22 minutes where I cried.  22 minutes where I retreated into myself.  22 minutes where I wondered why even “good news” is bad.  After 22 minutes, he came out and then proceeded to “play” (ie. squabble) with Elizabeth, with Emily, with even the cat.  I gave him Ritz crackers, which Emily and Elizabeth gobbled.  I handed him back his DSi, which absorbed him quietly until he overheard Emily and Elizabeth and jumped up to ride bikes with them.  He wasn’t still; he wasn’t contained- he was provoking confrontation.  James came home finally, and I left for yoga and a moment of peace- leaving James with the fallout. 

It was a whole evening of my hating his behavior, hating his Tourette’s, hating his anorexia- fighting with James over letting him eat nothing a jam sandwich while I was at yoga- loving my child, but hating my response to it all.  The peace that I can manage to find in 22 minutes, in yoga, just pours away in the face of his intensity and the confrontations he seeks. 

I don’t know about any flowers along the path, but I sure know that my pot is cracked and that I’m leaking all over the place.

November 28, 2010

Breathing and Battling OCD

Filed under: OCD — Teacher Professor @ 8:18 am

Last night: Ray’s bed, where we were snuggling right before bedtime- a nightly ritual, it allows him to settle down into sleep.

“Mommy, I have a new Tourette’s.”

Oh? Oh?

Yea, I sometimes reach out and have to touch things.  I pat them, two or three or sometimes more.  I can’t help it, I just do it.

Oh man, oh man… I saw this on The OCD Project.  Deep breath… Does it feel like you just have to, like you’ll burst if you don’t and then as you pat, that stress goes away?

(Look of surprise)- Yea, just like that.  I feel better when I do it.

sigh- he has OCD now, too? Is it a problem?  Do you want to make it stop? No sense in “fixing” it if it’s not a problem.  And… depends on what he’s patting.  I can just see explaining this one to some third grade parent…

Yea, I don’t want to do it, but I just have to. It’s weird.

There are some things you can do.  Do you want to hear about them? Knowing Ray, if I jump straight into teaching mode, he’ll resist.   Sigh…


Well… the easiest thing to do is to take some very, very deep breaths.  That stress you’re feeling is a bunch of chemicals in your brain that is telling your brain that you’re stressed and this will fix it.  It’s a weird thing, because it’s not real- it’s just the chemicals that are combining and telling your brain lies.  Oxygen- a lot of it- can pop those chemicals sometimes.  You can take big breaths in through your nose- remember, smell the flower?- and blow out the bad chemicals through your mouth- remember, blow out the candle?  You are literally popping the chemicals and blowing them away. The book Talking Back to OCD says to disconnect OCD from the person- OCD is chemicals, NOT part of you. How to translate that to a kid…?

You’ve told me this before, Mommy! (aggravated tone).

Just trying to reinforce the message… Another thing you can do is to stop your hand and just wait it out- know that it’s the chemicals that are screaming at you to do it, not you, and you can wait it out.  And that’s really, really, really hard because the stress builds up pretty bad.  Breathing can help you through that waiting too.  It does go away and the chemicals do stop yelling at you to do something you don’t want to do.

Uh huh.  Mommy, are we going to watch Cats and Dogs?  It’s really, really funny.

And there closed my window of communication.. Oh, I hope it helped…

About 5 minutes later:

Time for bed, Ray.  Good night sweetheart.  I love you soooo much.

I love you, Mommy.

Said muffled against his hair: I admire you so much, Ray.  You are dealing with stuff that no little kid should have to.  And you’re doing such a good job.  You really are.

… and with that, Ray gave me an extra special hug and a small smile of gratitude.  And I went back to my bed, humbled.  Poor kid- this is really, really hard- and he’s so small.  But I was grateful, so grateful that he was at a place where he could verbalize it.  So often he lashes out in frustration and anger, rather than asking for help.  I only pray that I can provide help that he can use.

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