Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Sucker.


Two weekends ago, in a moment of weakness, I agreed to let Conor earn a hermit crab named Linda as his next Extreme Superstar Award. 

What can I say? He hit me up before I was finished my coffee, and I was only halfway through the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times. I hadn’t even had the chance to read about the five designer outfits Julia Roberts wore one whirlwind day in Manhattan before he was hounding me.

“When can Conor get a hermit crab named Linda?!?” he crowed at me for the hundredth time, pointing his finger at my face. “I want to put it on the calendar rules book!”

Before I knew what was happening, I opened my mouth and blurted, “You can earn a hermit crab named Linda for your next Extreme Superstar Award, Conor.” Close mouth. Open mouth again, insert hot sweet coffee, close mouth. (Ah, look, Julia Roberts is wearing Stella McCartney. Now Valentino. Hey, mixing it up with Dolce & Gabanna!) 

Conor's big blue eyes got even wider, and he looked shocked for a moment. "YES!" he yelled. "Named LINDA!"

Look, Ma, a new tattoo!
Oh, for the love of God, let me just say that for my next tattoo, I should have “Sucker” inked on my forehead. Do I need another animal to try to keep alive? After all, Linda will join our already packed menagerie (if/when Conor earns it)—Linus (standard poodle), Gordon (gecko), Sierra (bearded dragon), and Rex and Fredella (goldfish). I successfully thwarted a request for a rabbit named Dakota once, but I totally caved on the crab. Maybe it’s because I’m from Maryland; we do love our crabs. Can’t deny that. They're delicious.

Ah, hell, the way I figure it, a hermit crab is much less work than any of the other animals. Plus, it’s a lot cheaper than a new bed frame, which also tops the list of Extreme Superstar Award reinforcers.

Look, this is how the whole thing went down.

Last September, Conor sees me redecorating his typical brother’s room. Despite being almost 12 years old, Aidan’s bedroom still looked much like a toddler’s. Some paint, a new rug, an Ikea chair, and some sports pictures on the wall, and voila! Teenage room.

Well, you woulda thought I just bought his brother a brand new puppy. From then on, the idea of re-doing his bedroom gripped Conor’s brain like a vise. Never mind that we had done it over just before his discharge from the NeuroBehavioral Unit. (Done nicely with two accent walls in colonial red, his favorite color.) 

Ok, I admit it, his room is a little bare, at least half of it. 

We're supposed to use the mat to block head banging but
usually we're just barely hanging on during the firestorm.

So now it's just a crude headboard.

We deliberately keep it that way, as we try to manage his tantrums in his bedroom. Less stuff to throw at us, ya know? He tore all the pictures and the star light down and pitched them at us in a rage anyway, so I didn’t bother to replace them. The other side of the room is more… well, cluttered.

Funny, I never noticed how completely different the two sides of the room look.
Kind of split-personality. Oh look, there's the other mat in the corner by the lamp.

He never seemed to care. But now? Now, Conor wanted to change it all. Preferably that day. Like, NOW.  (Did I say he wanted it now? Wasn't sure if I mentioned that.)
I know he wanted it now, because he told me. All. The. Time.

In our never-ending quest to get our son’s challenging behaviors under control for extended periods of time, my husband and I, together with his behaviorist, tweak his protocol every so often. We hope, of course, to reduce the frequency of his tantrums. We’ve had moderate success over the past year and a half-- since Nov. 2012, Conor has averaged 31.5 days between bursts (some low numbers of 2 and 5 days between bursts and some high numbers of 55 and 80 days between). Essentially, he’s been averaging about 1 per month for awhile, with a few longer stretches. 

You can see notes where we've added or changed things in his protocol. We started the
Extreme Superstar Award on 12/4/2013. His behaviorist keeps the data for us, so I've got to give her props.

 The duration of the tantrums remains stubborn at an average of 50 minutes. This, of course, doesn’t count the almost-tantrums, which can be almost as stressful as the real thing.

Mario Buatta is known for his love of chintz.
He's famous for decorating for celebrities like Mariah
Carey. All I can say is… ew.
So, my hubby and I figured, if Conor really wanted to unleash his inner Mario Buatta, let’s use it to our advantage. If he didn’t have a tantrum for three months, we told him, he could re-decorate his bedroom. At Christmas. 

“Can he go that long?” his behaviorist asked, raising an eyebrow when I told her what we had done. “Has he done that before?”

“39 days,” I replied, “but he’s really motivated by a new ceiling fan.” (Ceiling fans are Conor porn.)

In hindsight, I can see it wasn’t really fair to expect him to go that long without a burst. Not without some support, a social story, a protocol, something in writing, a visual schedule or system that we all understood. Basically, a binding legal contract…with pictures and tokens.

This, of course, is what went running through my mind after his tantrum 60 days into the little impromptu experiment. Ok, ok, I’m not a behaviorist, I just play one in real life. I don’t always know what the hell I’m doing, despite having a behaviorist on the payroll for years. Yet we got 60 days out of it. 

But he failed. So I failed.

Conor earns the star at 8:30pm each night.
But he has to be on good behavior 24 hours a
day to earn the Extreme Superstar Award.
And thus, we re-grouped. We broke down the items Conor wanted into a list—new ceiling fan, 6-drawer dresser, rug, bed frame—and started yet another behavioral protocol. We wrote him a social story explaining that, if he went 30 days straight with no tantrum, he could earn one BIG item. This way, he can earn items that may be over his budget, that are extremely motivating, that encourage a longer-term focus.

I came up with the name "Extreme Superstar Award," inspired by competitive reality TV shows and his current protocol. It's really, really important that you flash some jazz hands when you talk about the protocol. Gives it that little extra pizzazz.


So this is the 5th layer of a behavioral protocol, if we don’t include the 5 point emotional scale. 6th layer? I don’t know, I’ve lost count. Token every 30 minutes to earn screen time, superstar token every 3 hours for earned outing twice a week, financial bonus for 4 consecutive days without a burst, perseveration protocol and budget protocol to address common triggers…egads. 

It’s giving me a headache just thinking about it. (I'm not even going to go into how we got from earning a new 6-drawer dresser to a hermit crab. This post is already too long. Suffice to say, the dresser arrived early but broken and he discovered a friend had a hermit crab. A HERMIT CRAB!!!)

So, there it is. That’s the story of how we wound up with yet another behavioral protocol and the promise to earn a hermit crab named Linda.

Let’s just hope I’ve had coffee, some bacon and eggs, and a good 30 minutes with the Sunday edition of the New York Times Magazine before he asks me for that spankin’ red hot Jeep Cherokee he’s had his eye on lately.

Yeah, Conor wants to know when he’s gonna be able to drive. 
Hold me.

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