Monday, November 03, 2008

Gentle hands

Well the debate may be long since finished, but the issues it raised are still churning around in my head, keeping me awake at night. Yesterday I actually found myself hyperventilating with anxiety when Hubby took son 2 out for a walk, even though they were just going on their regular stroll to local shops where he is well known.

Hubby and I were discussing how we could try to make sure that we discouraged son 2 from trying to approach strangers ( he doesn't often anyway) without stifling his desire to communicate, which is something everyone has worked so long and hard to encourage. We couldn't really come up with an answer.

We thought back to how he used to be. When he was younger he was in a huge autistic bubble. People, including most of the time us, didn't mean anything to him. He had no desire to communicate with anyone. He only emerged briefly from this bubble when he felt threatened, a sort of fight or flight reaction. His way of communicating at that moment was to bite.

My lower arms would be covered in bruises from his bites. Sometimes he would sink his teeth in and almost hang from my arm. We were lucky that there were very few injuries to other children, because son 2 never really has had any interest in his peers, but staff working with him would also get bitten. Like many kids on the spectrum, he has no impulse control or sense of danger.

It was a relief in some ways when the biting changed to pinching. Still painful, but not as bad. The pinching remains a behaviour to this day when he is very distressed, but it is rare now and usually directed at himself rather than others. Instead we taught him what we called 'gentle hands', in other words when he felt the uncontrollable impulse to pinch someone's arm, he should stroke or pat gently instead. He later spontaneously developed this to show affection as he is nonverbal.

It worked, but clearly now he is bigger it seems to have made him potentially even more socially unacceptable to others. Now to my mind a gentle pat or stroke is a million times better than a bite or a pinch, but of course others don't know his history, don't appreciate how far he has actually come back into our world.

Time for a new strategy I think, but I'm damned if we could think of one yesterday...

Three notable things:

1. We watched the F1 Grand Prix on TV yesterday. Well done, Lewis Hamilton, but you did put us all through it on the way.

2. School is back today but the council 'forgot' to arrange the transport until the escort rang them to remind them this morning. As a result the bus was very late and there was stress all round here at home.

3. Time for a much-needed coffee now, before I start work!


Jenny Beattie said...

If it makes you anxious, Cathy, it doesn't just evaporate when others stop talking about it. Give it some time, and I hope you'll feel better about it.

HelenMWalters said...

I hope you find a way through this, or at least a way to lessen the anxiety. Sending hugs your way.

Cathy said...

Thanks jj and Helen. I think I will start to feel better now he is back at school, it is always good to know that he is somewhere where he is understood.

Casdok said...

Oh i know how painful bites are and i know how much hard work goes into changing these behaviours. Much kudos to your son and your selves for acheiving what you have.

My son still dosnt show affection so again i know how much affection means and i feel for you with this dilemma.

Cathy said...


I know there are people out there dealing with far worse than we are (and you already know how much I admire what you have done with C) but for some reason this one has really hit home, probably because it blew up at the end of a very draining two week half term.

It just accentuated the gulf beween what we want society to see ( ie what we and school see in him) and what other people, even those who should have some understanding, are really thinking. I'm not sure any amount of awareness education can get past that barrier.


Anne Brooke said...

I'm no help at all, but I'm just commenting to say I think you're amazing. That's all, really!