Autism and anger – two A-words that don’t go together well. The combination ain’t pretty.
Last night, Nigel was angry. I had given him an ultimatum: You must clean your room or you can’t have your friend spend the night this weekend as planned. This last resort came after a series of interventions on my part to make the room cleaning as easy as possible. I wrote instructions, broken down into steps, for him to refer to while cleaning. I offered the positive reinforcement of having his friend spend the night this weekend. He called the friend on Monday to invite him to spend Friday night, and as of Wednesday night, he had not lifted a finger to pick up his room. Urging him to get started was met with indifference. I mentioned that he would not receive his allowance until the room was clean. Not motivating enough. I removed the DVD player from his room. No worries. So, faced with letting it slide or hitting him where it hurts, I gave him the ultimatum. And I think the real reason he became angry is because he knows that I’ll follow through with it.
Nigel has two ways of expressing anger – he destroys things in his room or becomes a mad dog. The fact that he chose not to destroy anything in his room last night told me that he didn’t want to make the situation worse because, deep down, he knew that at some point he would have to actually clean his room. So, on some level, he still had control of himself. He just wanted to act like he didn’t.
The first time Mad Dog entered our home, I was quite scared. Nigel, heading into adolescence, was having a lot of trouble filtering the sensations caused by his new hormones. I didn’t know what to expect from him. He was hissing, growling, biting, and making death threats. I don’t even remember how I got him to calm down – I think I just waited it out, holding my breath. Mad Dog has reared his head a few other times in the last couple of years. The death threats have subsided, but the rest of it is no picnic.
After I told Nigel that he would have to cancel his sleepover unless he cleaned his room, Mad Dog came bounding out. He leaped around the living room, growling and hissing, jumping on the back of the couch where my boyfriend Rick and I were trying to watch a movie. I was not pleased. I tried herding him back to his room, at which point he threw himself on the floor and began biting my legs. My patience wearing thin, I left him there in the hallway and went to the bathroom to regroup.
I came out a moment later to the sound of laughter. Apparently, Mad Dog had gone back out to the living room to jump on the back of the couch, and Rick deftly infused some humor into the situation. He grabbed Nigel and gave him a wedgie. That startled Mad Dog right out of him! Nigel went back to his room for a few minutes, and then he came out with a plan. He knew that shoving everything into the closet wouldn’t fly, so he offered to bundle it in an old sheet and drag it into the storage room. I came up with a plan of my own. I told him that first he should put away all the clothing that was on the floor, and then we’d consider using his sheet method. He said okay. After he’d put away all the clothing, I went in and surveyed his room and said, “Why don’t you just put all the stuffed animals back on your bed?” By the time he had done that, the piles on the floor looked much more manageable. I suggested he pick up all the DVDs. “Just the DVDs,” I said. Then, since it was bedtime, I suggested that he could do his sheet plan tomorrow, after he had picked up the books. He said okay.
And so we managed to learn a few important things here at Teen Autism:
1. Humor is a significant tool for diffusing anger.
2. Allowing Nigel to come up with his own plan is an effective motivator.
3. Compromise might actually be possible.
4. Bargaining is very productive.
5. Mad Dog is vulnerable to surprise wedgie attacks.