We were at the MOPS meeting (Mothers of Preschoolers, for those unfamiliar) at church last week, and I'd agreed to help set up. That meant that Ethan had to go to childcare a bit early. When we reached the room (a familiar place -- he's just spent the last two years in there on Sundays before graduating up to an older Sunday school class) something about the situation made him tense up. Maybe it was the fact that almost no one was there or the teenage helpers were different. I'm not quite sure, but the next thing I knew, Ethan was heading over to the dollhouse. I knew why -- and I was right. He was heading over to the garage doors. He needed a stress reliever.
Here's the thing about Ethan. He doesn't have a lot of behavior issues. Often people will say, "Oh, I didn't notice anything was 'up' with him." The two areas he tends to distinguish himself as a bit different are with his challenges in coming up with play ideas and with his reactions to being in a new environment. Some kids run. Others tantrum. Ethan slyly heads towards plugs and cords (he calls them pluggers, which always makes me smile), outlets, computer switches, fans, and shades.
This both frustrates and fascinates me.
I should add a disclaimer here. The obession is not as bad as it once was. Back a few years ago when we attempted a quick getaway in a hotel, there was non-stop running from the lights to the toilet flusher to the blinds. We've learned that if we tell him he needs to be done now, in most cases he can force himself after a few minutes to stop. He also no longer makes a mad dash towards switches and buttons. He's more sneaky now. The one thing that's always gotten me, as I watch him crawl on the floor behind a chair to trace the path of a cord, or find a small light that he can unplug and bring to another room to plug in, is why? What is he thinking? What's driving him? What need is this behavior fulfilling?
When Ethan first joined the Sunday school room with the dollhouse and its garage doors, he was a little over two. He did not want to be there. We'd held him back with the under two kids a little longer to give him time, but he still wasn't ready. He didn't know what to do with this loud room full of unpredictable children. And so every week he would make a beeline over to the dollhouse, lie on the floor (or sometimes just sit) and push the garage doors. Up and down. Up, and down. The whole time, he'd be making the quiet humming of a garage door opening. If I tried to talk to him, he usually didn't want to talk. He just wanted to stare at those doors. If you'd been watching, you wouldn't have thought he was thinking much of anything. Over time, he's taught me to know better.
So there we were on Friday. The situation was different and Ethan was back to the doors. Only this time, for some reason I could see the gears turning in his head. I could see him actually look around the room and see some familiar reference points missing. He asked, "Why are not many kids here?" Then his eyes scanned the room. They settled on the garage door. As his favorite-therapist-in-the-world used to say, he "telegraphed" what he was going to do next. Instead of darting I could almost see him making the decision that he needed to go to them.
It reminds me of a night in the kitchen and deciding to have that extra piece of pizza, because I'm stressed about something and darn, and it just tastes good.
I walked over to him. I patted him on the back, leaned over, and whispered in his ear.
"Ethan, do you need the doors because you're stressed and a little scared about being here?"
"Yes," he told me, starting to push them up.
I looked around. One other boy was there, a buddy Ethan had just been munching on donuts with, who has his own little quirks. He was laying out a line of thin wooden blocks like Dominoes.
"Your friend is over there playing. Would you like to ask if he wants to play?"
Ethan looked at the doors for another second. Then he looked over at the other boy and the blocks, and stood up.
"Hey, would you like to play with me?" Of course not loud enough, and from across the room. I nudged him a little. We walked over. "Would you like to play?" he asked again.
"Look what I'm doing? Watch this Ethan!" his friend said, and knocked the blocks down. And with that, in that moment, the doors were left behind.
The goal here is not to stamp all of Ethan's habits out of him. Some he still very much needs. Some he still clings to for familiarity and comfort, like the nibbling on my nails that I still haven't beat. Yesterday I caught him at my parents' house, plug in hand. There were too many people. The house was too loud. He'd spent all weekend with people. It was just too much.
The goal is not to eradicate all that he is but to push him forward, bit by bit.
The goal, as it is with all of us, if we're really to live lives worth living, is to nudge him just a bit more out of his comfort zone; to encourage him to do things he may not have thought he was capable of doing.
To me, the best part of that moment at the church was not Ethan giving up a "stimming" activity to go play. It was that he could express to me or at least confirm what he was feeling. "Behaviors mean something," all of Ethan's really good therapists have said to me.
Being able to see that in real time...to see the way his mind works and understand that he had to work to make a decision part of him really didn't want to make...
That was progress.
Monday, October 15, 2012
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My name is Jenna and I came across your site. Ethan is a handsome prince. He is a blessing, gift, miracle, and special earthly angel.He is a brave warrior, smilen champ, courageous fighter, and an inspirational hero.
I was born with a rare life threatening disease. I have 14 other medical conditions, and developmental delays.
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