Sunday, July 1, 2012

The build-UP to the MeltDOWN

Much like Twinkie, Zachary has an affinity for LEGOs....well at least for the moment.  It really doesn't matter what type of LEGO because if it walks like a duck and talks like a's a duck.  The reality of this statement, though, is that Zachary has an affinity for anything that visually "repeats" itself.  Included in anything, but not limited to, are LEGOs, Dr. Seuss books, "tall towers" (aka high-tension lines), trains, videos, Google images,  tv shows, flash cards, trucks, balloons at Party City, traffic lights, iPads at the Apple store, the cereal aisle and virtually anything else that will visually stimulate Zachary because there are several of the same thing...whatever that thing may be.  There's actually a pattern here because Zachary also tends to repeat what he hears or wants over and over and over.  Welcome to the sometimes frustrating and always fascinating world that we call perseveration.  

Repetitive Behaviors in Autism (click here for more info about Autism)

Back in February, Zachary started showing a serious interest in LEGOs and Joe bought him his first LEGO set.  OK, the truth is that Santa left Joe a LEGO Space Shuttle set (which he loved, btw) and that's really where Zachary's interest began to develop.  LOL   We'll buy anything that promotes typical play AND is engaging to Zachary, so if LEGOs was the path he was taking us on we were gonna follow him.  Zachary loves outer space so he and Joe bought a small piece to the Alien Conquest set and the rest is history.  By mid-April, Zachary had all of the individual sets that completed the entire Alien Conquest LEGO set.  This was largely due to the fact that his birthday is the end March and he received lots of sets as gifts which was awesome!  :)  What was most interesting is that not only did this support Zachary's need for this type of visual stimulation, BUT he played with Alien Conquest as typically as any other 9 year-old boy.  He was appropriately engaged, showed reciprocal play and language skills and even showed some abstract play which is usually real tough for Zachary.  We couldn't have been happier!!  

Zachary used his birthday money to buy the Alien Conquest Mothership!!
Having said all of this, Joe and I both agreed that we wouldn't buy any other LEGO sets since there was such a huge risk for all of this appropriateness to quickly turn into another form of perseveration due to all of the other LEGO sets that are available.  Well, that was until we were in Ohio and Zachary was on the verge of completely losing it at the mall one afternoon while we were training and all he wanted was a small LEGO Ninjago set.   Against our better judgement (and we both knew it), we bought a small Ninjago set which Zachary was thrilled about.  And, yes, it did talk him off the edge, so, if even for a moment, it helped us out. This was an exception and the only exception.  We knew we were on a slippery slope.  After we got back home to NJ, Zachary took a trip to Target with Joe, Twinkie and Grandma.  Zachary can be very convincing, and this is where he managed to talk Joe into letting Grandma buy him another Ninjago set.  This can happen very quickly if you're not ready for it!  UGH!!  "What happened to the Play-doh we had talked about, Joe??!!",  I said to myself when they got home.  UGH!!  After I got over the surprise of seeing Zachary walk in the house with a LEGO box and the fact that I wanted to kill Joe (just keeping it real!) for letting him get it,  we had to deal with the fact that we were now navigating the unpredictable, choppy seas of breaking a newly established perseverative behavior. Good times.  

For days on end, Zachary has been begging, pleading and REPEATING himself over and over again with a seemingly simple request...more LEGO Ninjago.  It's enough to make you scream at some point, and I finally did exactly that today a couple of times.  It only lasts a second when I do scream because a) I've got Zachary's attention and have momentarily busted through this behavioral pattern and b) I can't fly off the handle when I'm trying to teach the child who can't modulate himself when he's upset that it's okay to fly off the handle.  Unfortunately, this was going to come to a head whether any of us liked it or not.  It's the nature of the beast.  

After being repeatedly told "No" as well as being offered a gazillion options and distractions, Zachary just couldn't deal with it anymore.  He started yelling and crying. He started to pound his hands and cry even harder.  Zachary was begging and pleading and yelling at me and yelling to me.  He was telling me he was frustrated, sad and stressed.  Despite the fact Zachary was yelling, he WAS doing everything else right and using his words to explain how he was feeling. After all, we tell him all of the time to "Use your words.  It helps Mommy and Daddy know what's wrong."   My poor little guy just could not understand why I wouldn't "help him" and buy more LEGOs.   It's heart breaking because at this point there is very little we can do to make the world a better place for Zachary.  What's different about this type of meltdown, though, is that it's based on genuine frustration and sadness versus frustration and anger.   Either way, these are emotions that are still difficult for Zachary to manage which is part of the reason he has a service dog.

Zachary ran out of the kitchen and into the TV room when he stopped by the stairs and SCREAMED...I'm talking SCREAMED.  It made me jump because I honestly didn't see a scream that loud coming.  As soon as that happened, Twinkie got up from under the kitchen table where she was sleeping and ran directly to him.  She was so alert and so on top of where he was so quickly that it was kinda crazy to see.  Honestly, she was standing in front of him before I even had a chance to think about calling her.  This definitely distracted Zachary enough to make him start to cry big, sad tears, jump on the couch and yell, "I NEED TWINKIE!  I NEED TWINKIE, MOMMY!"  I gave Twinkie the "love" command and also included "over" which involves her laying across Zachary's legs to provide deep pressure which is calming to him...the rest is history!   Zachary was still yelling and crying, but it was not nearly as intense as it was just a minute or two before. Twinkie gave Zachary a lot of "love", and I gave her a lot of treats to reinforce this the entire time she helped him calm down.  He was rubbing his fingers and hands through Twinkie's fur, holding onto her and letting her help him de-escalate.  For as much distress as you can see in Zachary's face, you can also visibly see his body change as Twinkie helps him relax.  

Blessings come in all shapes and sizes.
It's impossible to explain the warped sense of pride and happiness I felt when I watched this all unfold...happy endings.

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