Apologies to Journey, but on our journey, Dar is getting handsier.
First, this manifested itself in his yanking my arm or my wife’s arm every time he wanted something around the house. We weren’t loving that. So we would tap our own arms as a guide to how he should do it. (We looked like that sergeant in Good Morning Vietnam who points to the stripes on his arm and says to Robin Williams, “Three up three down, what does that mean to you, soldier?” Response: “End of an inning?”) Eventually, Dar got it. He taps our arms now.
Lately, though, he only taps me for one thing: tickles. He taps and he says “tuh-kuh” like I taught him (correcting him from “kuh-kuh”). And I do it. Fellow dads, didn’t you always picture yourself as the Fun Dad, the Piggyback Dad, the one who was always ready for mirth and merriment? And then, didja ever notice how tiring that can be? At least in my case, after about twenty tickle sessions in a row, I’m tired. I’m trying to reward Dar for tapping and saying “tuh-kuh,” even as I feel he should have to do something else to earn them, like clean his room or finish a book or something. Instead I just surrender and comply with the ongoing “tuh-kuh” requests. “Last one,” I say, but he doesn’t get that. So I’ll leave the room or something.
That’s the good news.
The not-good-not-bad news is that he walks up to people at Starbucks and Peet’s and holds their hands. I know, it’s kind of adorable, but it’s also getting more inappropriate as he gets older without getting wiser. So far, everyone has been nice, but…I feel bad. In one case, he actually hugged a woman from behind, which put his head entirely too close to her posterior. She nicely said “Where’s your mommy?” I had been ordering food and I rushed over: “Right here,” I said awkwardly. “Sorry, sorry, he…doesn’t talk,” I said. I feel I have to at least say that, if not come out with the full autism diagnosis. Not sure what to do about this long-term, other than never go anyplace with him.
Occasionally, he’ll see someone with jangling, dangling keys hooked to his belt, and try to finger them. Again, I rush over with the apology. I keep wondering how this will play out when he’s no longer a silly six-year-old and instead a pre-teen who should know boundaries. Any of my fellow parents-of-severe-cases have any often-used-phrases?
Now the bad news: the hitting.
There was a time when Dar would feel frustrated and hit himself, usually in the head. At other times he would bite his own hand, leaving red welts. As a parent, this pained me to watch. I would sometimes hold down his arm and try to sing or soothe him. After a while, I regret to say that I got used to it, and let him do it without interruption. After another while, he seemed to tire of it. So his episodes of frustration would be accompanied by screaming, stomping, fist-making, but no self-abuse, not anymore.
Yet now Dar is hitting his helpers. Not every day. But often enough. He’s asked to do something by an aide or therapist, and he lashes out. Most of the time, he misses. His strike may be a little off-target, or he’s just slow enough that avoiding it isn’t really difficult. But he does connect. So far, no one has shown me a mark. In other words, he hasn’t hit anyone half as hard as he’s bitten himself.
Then last week, I was told that he hit another kid. Receiving that information turned my blood to ice. If that keeps happening, bye-bye public schools. We may want to leave anyway, but it would be nice if it were by choice. For the record, the kid was barely hurt, and she was probably “collateral damage” because of a task Dar found objectionable. But still. One saving grace, or lucky break, of this whole autism roller-coaster is that Dar never seemed particularly violent. He wasn’t one of those kids, who get thrown in with the Adam Lanzas of the world.
So now there have to be consequences, partly implemented by his team at school, partly implemented by us at home. When he attempts to strike, everything gets taken away. That’s fine…I hope.
I’ll have more to say on this. Very much a work in progress. Thanks for reading.