Tag Archives: compromise

Executive Compromise

A short conversation with Nigel last night –

Me: Nigel, you really need to clean up your room. I can’t even see the floor in there.

Nigel: The floor is purposeless.

Me: No, it is not ‘purposeless.’ The floor is for walking on to get across the room.

Nigel: Walking is purposeless.

Me: You’re not making sense. Of course walking has a purpose.

Nigel: Well, it’s too hard to clean my room.

And so, the room-cleaning saga continues. Some of you may recall the ideas I came up with in the past to address this issue, such as listing specific steps to clean the room, making chore charts, using positive and negative reinforcement, and trying to inject humor into the situation. All of those things worked a few times; none of them work now. With five full inches of trash, clothing, books, DVDs, papers, and Lego strewn across his entire floor, I had to dig deeper to come up with a solution.

I remembered Mama Mara’s post from a few months ago discussing the concept of executive control and her son’s room, and I used that to fuel my search. I searched for more about executive control/function, and specifically, cleaning up rooms. I found a video on Autism Children Now that was quite helpful. The subject, a woman with Asperger’s, discusses the fact that ASD individuals have a different perception of what is organized. It reminded me of the following exchange I overheard between Nigel and Aidan a few years ago:

Aidan: You’re using my toothbrush, Nigel! Mine’s the one with the stickers on it.

Nigel: Sorry, my brain is not good with memorizing things like that.

Aidan: That’s because you’re not organized!

The Aspergian woman in the video maintained that when it appears that autistic people’s living areas are disorganized, the spaces aren’t disorganized to them. They know where everything is. And while I am sure that this is true in many cases, unfortunately it’s not with Nigel. He doesn’t know where everything is. Things get lost in his room, swallowed up. Last weekend he had an overnight Scout camping trip, and while packing he could not find his flashlight, compass, Swiss Army knife, or even any socks, all of which were buried. We had to go out and buy these things at the last minute, which did not make me happy. I could dock his allowance for these items, but that really doesn’t help him to learn how to be more organized.

What to do? The woman in the video made an important point: compromise is the key word. Compromise on organization, and do not be abstract in your instructions. I can’t just say, “Nigel, you need to organize your room better.” What I can do is compromise on the things that I want him to have organized. For example, I can have him agree to the following:

  • Daily trash pick-up, every evening at the same time
  • Socks go directly in laundry bin when taken off
  • Scout items or other easily lost items put in a designated spot

I would love to have him clean his room thoroughly every week, but I know this is not possible for him. I would love to have all of his clothes in his dresser, closet, or in the laundry instead of on the floor, the books and DVDs on the actual shelves that are set up for them, the papers in stacks or files, and everything organized the way the rest of my house is. But there’s no compromise in that. With the 3-step list, he won’t feel overwhelmed, and I don’t have to hear “I don’t have any socks” or “I can’t find my flashlight/compass/scissors/wallet” anymore. And, if I’m really lucky, I won’t have to wade through five inches of trash to tuck him in bed every night.

Dealing with Anger

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.