Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Pinky Swear

"You don't need this mug you made for Miss Kaidyn anymore. You don't have tantrums anymore, pinky swear," Conor declared. "I'm going to throw it in the trash."

"Wait, what?" I replied from my computer perch around the corner. I was engrossed in Facebook, as usual, ignoring Conor as he paced around our kitchen.

I pushed my chair back just in time to see Conor throw the mug he insisted be created into the kitchen trash.

"There!" he pronounced loudly.

"Conor," I said, a bit alarmed, "why did you throw the mug for Miss Kaidyn in the trash? It says 'Miss Kaidyn is The Best'. She's gonna love it!" (Lately, he's been going around throwing my kitchenware into the trash and saying we don't need it anymore. I have no earthly idea why he's doing this. I've lost a muffin pan and rescued a loaf pan so far.)

"Conor doesn't have tantrums anymore, you pinky swore," he replied, looking earnest.

"Honey, that's great, but Miss Kaidyn is still coming tomorrow for your session."

"Why?!?" Conor said flatly, confused.

"Because, Miss Karen just had a baby last week, so Miss Kaidyn is coming for the session instead. To do skills," I said. "We explained this to you many times."

He walked off in a bit of a huff. I think he thought he wriggled out of skills session since Miss Karen was on leave. I don't know. I rescued the mug. You never know, he may want it back. Or not.

For the past year and a half, Miss Karen, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, has been coming to our home to work with Conor on his social skills and life skills, and collaborating with the Kennedy Krieger Institute's NeuroBehavioral Unit to ameliorate his challenging tantrum behavior.

Recently, however, she decided to push out another rug rat of her own, so now she's on maternity leave. Fortunately, she found a BCBA willing to take us on for a short-term stint, and Miss Karen explained the situation to Conor before she squeezed out the little pipsqueak, thank God.

It's true, Conor's behavior has improved greatly. He's made good progress since Miss Karen came on board. Sometimes, though, I think this behaviorist thing is overrated. I mean, how hard can it be? I came up with this 'pinky swear' thing with Conor all on my own. And it's been working great.

Make this meatloaf gluten-free, and I'll put my lips
all over it. The singer? Not so much.
See, like many teenage boys, Conor likes to make promises that he clearly has no intention of keeping. (He's like Meatloaf. Give him what he wants, and he promises to love you forever. Or not. Ask him in the morning.)

"You'll get on the treadmill later," he promises me. (He switches pronouns. He means he'll get on the treadmill. Or not.)

"Conor will take a shower at 7:30pm," he assures us. Or maybe 8:00pm. Or not.

"You'll do a BRT with Mommy after Miss Paisley leaves," he says to his in-home aid. "Uh-huh," she replies with a smile. "Sure you will."

One day, I do not know what possessed me, but when Conor made one of his many promises, I held up my right pinky and said, "Swear, Conor. Pinky swear that you'll do it next time."

He looked puzzled. "What is 'pinky swear'?" He asked, wrapping his pinky around mine.

"It's a promise. When you say you're going to do something, and you pinky swear, that means you have to do it," I explained earnestly.

That was it. No social story. No well-thought out behavior protocol based on Applied Behavioral Analysis techniques or studies showing the efficacy of the pinky swear.

No video model showing Conor how to do the pinky swear, no social group with peers discussing the value of the pinky swear. Just a mom with the attitude of a 12 year-old girl with a Hello Kitty barrette, a patent leather purse, and sparkly pink nails.

And whattayaknow, it worked! Every time he makes one of his pronouncements--"Next time, I'll change into my bathing suit in the bathroom"--and I make him pinky swear? Half the time, he's cool with it and the other half, he gets this look on his face like, oh shit she caught me. And he does it. He does it!

"You pinky swore, Conor," I say to him when he balks at doing what he promised.

"Pinky swear is a promise to next time," he often crows back. I'll high-five that.

Yeah, who needs a Master's degree in behavioral analysis or human services or some such nonsense? Shit, if I had known it was this simple, we would've avoided a whole helluva lot of problems.

This poor woman in the video, wearing that horrid white outfit and having to be groped by Meatloaf, LOL. But boy, does it bring back college memories.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Take Me Out To The Ball Game

Last night, we took Conor to a minor league baseball game at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, Maryland.

A local nonprofit, Pathfinders for Autism, coordinated a Free Family Fun event (sponsored by Morgan Stanley), for families with a loved one on the spectrum. I volunteer for Pathfinders, and this is one of many fun events we put on.

(See how I seamlessly worked in that plug for Pathfinders for Autism and our event sponsor? Smooooth. 'Cause that's how I roll.)

Conor loves these kinds of things, you betcha he does. He loves himself a community outing. So I slapped on some lipstick, we threw his backpack in the car, and headed 32 miles north to visit the Ironbirds as they took on Auburn. Conor rode shotgun, as usual. (Best position to play with the GPS. He's still obsessed.) I sat in the back with our typical 12 year-old son, Aidan, who ignored me and then quickly fell asleep.

10 miles into the trip, and my husband glanced back at me as I played with my iPhone in the backseat. "Check Conor out," he stage-whispered to me.

I tore my eyes away from my Facebook app and looked at Conor. My son was staring straight ahead at the road, taking a break from spinning the dial on the GPS and looking up addresses in Montana. (I don't know why Montana, just... Montana. He likes the zip codes there. Shrug.)

"What am I supposed to be checking out?" I stage-whispered back. I don't know why the hell we were whispering. He's not deaf, for crying out loud. He can hear us.

Too bad Conor wasn't dressed
this dapper when he
did his little Twist.
But it was a
baseball game,
after all.
Wait, what? What was that? Conor's cheek twitched and then his whole body did this little jumpy thing. Then he grabbed the library book he insisted on bringing on the trip (he never reads), and he shook it several times. A few seconds later, again, with the twitching and the jumpy and the shaking. Twitch, jump, shake shake shake. Twitch, jump, shake shake shake. Twitch, jump, shake shake shake. His own little involuntary version of The Twist.

Damn Tourette's. Months and months without a single tic, and then... guess it's back. It comes and goes. He doesn't have the worst case, but it does mean additional medication and sometimes the tics make him cranky.

I went back to looking at my phone, this time entering the date the tics started up again since we're seeing the neurologist in a few weeks.

We continued on to the stadium. I wish I could say that I enjoyed the game, but I didn't glimpse a second of it, really. See, Conor doesn't like to sit and watch baseball games. He lives for the food and entertainment.

"Excuse me," he barked at the Pathfinders for Autism staffer at the front entrance. "Do you know where is Rita's Italian Ice here?" Shelly kindly pointed the way. We trailed closely after him.

Conor wants to know when he can drive.
No, Conor didn't watch the game. He ping-ponged back and forth from the Rita's Italian Ice to the corn on the cob at the Seafood Shack (mmmmm, butter) to The Claw arcade game and back to popcorn. He posed with the mascot and the stadium sponsor's mini-monster truck, then bumped into the other patrons as he meandered around the small stadium.

He veered right and left, bobbing and weaving toward whatever caught his eye, unaware of social conventions like boundaries, right-of-way, and that invisible bubble of space people carry around with them.

In public, we try to keep him within arm's reach, to rope him in when we need, but it can be challenging. Still, most people were patient, and it wasn't too crowded.

And, lucky guy, he met retired Baltimore Oriole B.J. Surhoff, who also volunteers with Pathfinders for Autism, but Conor was more interested in getting B.J.'s pretty blonde wife's digits. "What's your name?" he asked her. "Do you text?"

"C'mon, lover boy," I muttered as I put my arm around his shoulders and turned him toward the exit. "Time to head out."

This is not the Ironbirds mascot. It's some steakhouse's mascot.
Conor still wanted his picture taken.
One of his in-home aids is from Kansas, so she gave him
this t-shirt from her last trip home.