We’ve been dealing with an issue concerning Aaron and another client at Paradigm that reminds me of the saying, “What goes around, comes around.” Aaron and this client have a history. When I found out that A. was at Paradigm, in fact, I became very worried…..and for good reason. Briefly, their history is that when Aaron was a new student in a school here, A. was the one assigned to help Aaron adjust. A. was very bossy, and Aaron just doesn’t do bossy. He became very frustrated as the day wore on, and soon he began flicking A. with his finger. His stinging little finger flicks became quite an issue, and so that afternoon I got a call from the school saying that they would have to charge Aaron with assault if he didn’t stop.
Wow! So that night Gary and I told Aaron over and over not to touch A. We preached no touching during dinner, during Skip-Bo, during the bedtime routine, and again the following morning until the moment Aaron got on the bus. I worried all day, but I considered the fact that no phone call from the school was a good sign that Aaron had obeyed our repeated directives. That evening, as we ate supper, I finally asked Aaron if he had touched A.
“No,” he said. He paused. “But I hit her with my notebook.”
It makes for a funny story, even then, but it was such a tangible example to us of just how literal Aaron is. Also, it showed us that we were in for a long school year. We were right about that! And now A. is a client at Paradigm. When I first heard that she was there and I figured out that she was THAT A., I knew we were in for some rough waters. And by the way, if I told Aaron that we were in for rough waters, he would wonder what on earth water has to do with him and A.
So, yes, Gary and I have found ourselves in the position of doing damage control over the past year or so that A. joined Paradigm. She and Aaron seemed to pick up right where they left off. Even if they are just teasing each other, the situation often ends up with one of them getting upset. Aaron doesn’t upset easily when it comes to his version of teasing, so I have to say that it’s probably A. who is frustrated most often. Both of them dish it out, but I think Aaron takes it better than A. But Aaron’s teasing can be so annoying, so loud, and so inappropriate, that we can understand A’s frustration. Yet A. often starts the ball rolling, so we are in quite the dilemma.
We’ve told Aaron to just not tease…..totally quit teasing, especially teasing A. However, almost everything Aaron does he defines as teasing. If we want Aaron to totally quit teasing, he must either have no human contact or be in a coma. We have tried to redefine the word “teasing”……we have tried to explain true teasing……we have tried to exemplify proper fun teasing…..but nothing really works with Aaron.
Autism is so complex. The effects of Aaron’s way of thinking are also very sad. Barb, a manager at Paradigm and a special person in Aaron’s life, told me yesterday how sad it was to watch Aaron trying to fit in. We see it at home all the time, especially when the whole family is together. I wrote about his breakdown at Christmas. Aaron so wants to be a part of a group, but his attempts often result in deep frustration for him because his attempts fall short of what is usually acceptable. We, too, are so embarrassed or upset by his actions that we often have a difficult time stepping back and seeing what the real issues are according to Aaron’s way of processing.
For instance, you don’t whack someone hard on the back in order to get their attention or to express your discomfort…..but Aaron does. You don’t pinch a person’s arm, either. Or interrupt other’s conversations by saying, “HEY!!” Or saying, “MOM!!” Over and over. And then talk about aliens or Godzilla or why the Phantom of the Opera wears a mask. At Paradigm, you throw in the fact that many of the other clients also have social challenges and sometimes the atmosphere becomes volatile.
Like trying to mix A. and Aaron.
A’s mother has expressed some concern to Paradigm. I don’t blame her. That’s why, after Aaron told me last week that he gave A. a resounding whack on her rear, I told Aaron that he should prepare for her parents to be very upset. I told him that one day her parents were going to put their foot down. Period.
Yesterday there was a conversation at Paradigm about the A. and Aaron situation, and this intervening individual said that Aaron was not to be around A. anymore. Or something to that effect. The Paradigm staff handled it well, standing up for Aaron, but I knew nothing of all this when Aaron came home. Aaron thought it was A’s mom who had given this ultimatum, but it wasn’t.
I talked to Aaron as I prepared supper, telling him that he was seeing the results of his actions…..results we had told him about, especially last week. I was opening some cans as Aaron stood beside me, listening. I hoped he was taking this to heart and learning a lesson. For a few seconds there was a pause in my lecture, and Aaron stood there. Finally he spoke.
“So A’s parents put down their foot,” he said.
How I wanted to laugh!
“Yes, Aaron, they put down their foot,” I replied instead.
Aaron stared at me for a few more seconds as the can opener whirred.
“What does that mean?” he finally asked.
And I realized once again that if I want to help Aaron, I must come to his level. He had no idea what it meant to “put down their foot.” Silly me! All this time I thought I had made such a good point, but Aaron was just wondering why A’s parents would “put down their foot.” What was that all about?
Just as he has no idea, strange as it seems, how to always effectively and appropriately interact with the people in his world. He wants to….he tries…..but he just doesn’t always get it and he isn’t always able to control the impulses that usually control him.
Aaron didn’t want to go to Paradigm this morning, which is his way of handling tough and embarrassing situations in his life. However, we know that Aaron can’t be allowed, if at all possible, to retreat from life. So I gently told him that he was going, several times during our morning…..even up to the point that we were in the van at Quik Trip to meet his ride.
His driver was filling up with gas, so I tried to get Aaron to just get out and walk over to the Paradigm van there at the pumps. Nope. Aaron wanted to do it the way he always does, waiting for Lisa to pull up beside us. When I mentioned my idea to Aaron, in fact, he had a very insightful comment.
“Everyone always wants me to do things!” he replied.
Yes, we do. We have good reasons, too, and the best of intentions for Aaron. But he sees our ideas as very annoying, most of the time, and also nearly impossible. I guess rather than “put down my foot,” I should try harder to put away unrealistic expectations and meet Aaron where he is. Be on his side, continue to train, and always see the world through Aaron eyes more than through my own.
And to realize how difficult it must be for him to climb in that van and face another day of attempting the sometimes impossible. Just going to Paradigm today was huge for Aaron, much less the thought of facing A. and somehow controlling his impulses for yet another day.
Let’s hope he has a good day. An appropriate day. A fun day.
And that Aaron isn’t the one “putting down his foot”……on top of A’s foot, knowing Aaron.
What goes around, comes around.