kitchen table math, the sequel: in which I swear off permissive parenting

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

in which I swear off permissive parenting

Oh, brother.

I'm sure I've mentioned, on occasion, that Andrew (autistic, turning 14) is a holy terror.

This summer I'm in a panic because things are way out of hand. By this age, Jimmy (autistic, just turned 21) was a Good Citizen. Not at school, where he still had a lot of problems, but at home and in public. Andrew is the opposite. He's at his best in school, though he's not great there. He's chronically difficult here at home and impossible in public.

Over the past year it's become obvious that we've dropped the ball. But I didn't know how badly we'd handled things until today.

Last week we dropped Andrew off at a camp for developmentally disabled and physically handicapped kids. It was a scene. The nurse argued with Ed about the medications, which were improperly labeled, she said, and I tried to deal with Andrew, who went into a massive tantrum. I held my ground: I had my clicker! Miraculously, I managed to get him back on track using a combination of stare-downs followed by clicks the instant there was a break in the shrieking, but not until everyone there had acquired a look of polite horror on his face & the elderly gentleman manning the canteen had said, "Olivier is going to have his hands full this week." (Olivier was Andrew's assigned aide; he's from France.)

We didn't think camp was going to work.

We figured we'd hear from them the next day, asking us to come get him.

Then, when we didn't hear from the camp (apart from the nurse, who called to report that the local CVS had mislabeled the medicine bottles so we still didn't have properly labeled medication), we figured when we picked Andrew up we'd be told that he wouldn't be invited back.

That's not what happened.

We drove up to the camp and there was Andrew, calmly hanging out with the rest of the campers and the counselors, all of whom looked cheerful and relaxed.

They brought us papers to sign, which included their notes on Andrew's behaviors, things he needed to improve, etc. The standard end-of-camp form they give all the parents.

The report: Andrew had no behaviors at the camp, and there was nothing to improve.

No behaviors and nothing to improve for a whole week.

The counselors were hugging him and saying goodbye; other counselors were strolling past calling out, "Goodbye, Andrew!"

The young European counselors all took this for granted, but the nurse was openly amazed. She's middle-aged & raised a handicapped child herself. "We had a very good week," she said, wonderingly. As she was running through the list of rational acts she had and the staff had witnessed, Andrew wandered off into the kitchen behind her office and picked up an empty soda can, & the nurse said without missing a beat, "Andrew come back from there." He put the can down, came back, and waited politely while she finished talking to us. (We need a nurse.)

The counselor sitting beside her took my email address so she could send me a photo of Andrew hugging another counselor -- a pretty blonde from England -- and then the two of them told us all about their weekend program during the school year, and they wrote out every date for us by hand on a piece of scratch paper so we could be sure to apply for spots for Andrew.

Nobody said anything about a weekend program the day we brought him to camp.

Within 5 seconds of our leaving the nurse's office and heading to the car, Andrew started in. First with the "bad sounds" and the dark face. Stage One.

I said, "This is going to be exactly like The Miracle Worker. He spent all week in a cabin, and he's perfect. Now he's going to drop his napkin on the floor." I said the same thing to a counselor in the parking area, and he wrote down the title of the movie so he could rent it.

Sure enough.

We needed to get something to eat before heading back, so we parked in front of a deli and went inside. Andrew made a beeline for an occupied table and snatched up a little girl's beverage, which I snatched right back, of course, but he'd been so fast I hadn't been able to get out in front of him to prevent his getting it in the first place. A bad sign.

We went to the counter to order, and pretty soon Andrew was making his little warning sounds. He was getting his bad look, too.

So I took him to a table and we sat down, but he didn't drink his juice or eat his chips, just sat there looking stony. Another bad sign.

Pretty soon he was making more of his warning sounds, and picking at the sides of his temples; that's Stage Two. Meanwhile I was clicking away and lavishly praising every lull in the action, but it was no use. He started slapping the sides of his head, and within 10 minutes all told he was doing his war whoops and the guttural vibrating scream that has to be heard to be believed and he had crashed his heavy wood chair over onto the tile floor.

With Andrew it's always the wind-up and then the pitch.

I hauled him out to the car, pushed him inside, shut the door, and went back inside the deli.

Andrew sat in the car for a minute or two, then opened the door.

I went back out and asked him if he was ready to be calm. Then I clicked him when he was calm for a second, calm meaning "not shrieking."

That was a bust. When he's ticked off, Andrew interprets praise for good behavior as the A-OK sign. Praise is the releaser that lets him go back to doing the thing you're trying to get him to stop doing by praising him for not doing it. [see: release word] Behaviorists have a term for this, but I forget what it is. So, having been momentarily calm, and having received his click, Andrew reeled back to the beginning of his wind-up (bad face, warning sounds), and I put him back inside the car & closed the door.

He opened the door again, set one foot out on the curb. No sounds. I clicked. Still no sounds. OK.

We went back inside, sat down, and started over. Andrew was wearing his dark look, but he wasn't saying anything, so that was fine & Ed by that time had finished up ordering & he sat down, too. So far so good.

The owner of the place came over and introduced himself. "Stay as long as you like," he said.

We weren't expecting that, and Ed said later it was a good omen. The owner said his 6-year old is autistic, and he's carried him shrieking out of Applebee's more times than he can count. Every time he carries the kid out, he leaves fifty bucks on the table because he knows the bill isn't going to be more than that. So he always spends fifty bucks at Applebee's.

That was funny to hear, because I have never, in my life, overpaid for something just because an autistic kid of mine happened to be shrieking and carrying on while I tried to settle a bill. That's probably why Jimmy ended up being a Good Citizen, come to think of it. Andrew's problem is that we ran out of energy and will somewhere along the line, and we stopped taking him anywhere instead of slugging it out with him in public.

Meanwhile, sometime during the Applebee's conversation, Andrew had decided to turn normal. When I looked at him again he was sitting cheerfully in his chair, eating his chicken fingers and drinking his juice. Then he threw his trash in the container and carried the leftovers to the car, after Ed and I were finished, too.

Time to download my copy of Grammar Trainer and get to work.

I still cry every time I see this scene.


Susan S suggested I post the breakfast scene. I saw this movie so many times when I was a kid I practically have a scene-by-scene breakdown committed to memory. For people who don't know the history of the film, Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke starred in the play on Broadway before making the movie. They did the breakfast scene 6 times a week.

eureka (on permissive parenting)


ElizabethB said...

Now you've made me cry, too!

I read Helen Keller hundreds of times growing up. It's such an amazing story.

And, I read the long version once, 1,000 or so pages that included more details about her teacher as well--it described what she needed to know to pass the test get into junior college at age 16 (and no slack was cut for her condition.) Needless to say, most high school grads and a many college grads today would not pass.

Anonymous said...

I'm amazed you have any energy at all.

You need to put the dinner scene up first. That makes the Wa-Wa scene even better.


Catherine Johnson said...

Good idea!

I should read the Helen Keller books.

I saw the movie a million times when I was a kid -- I almost think it was fate.

It was probably my favorite movie.

Catherine Johnson said...

My problem is I have no energy.

That's not true; I have plenty of energy.

What I do not have is the level of energy I had raising Jimmy.

Plus I've been lulled into complacency. All those years of Jimmy-battle have faded away, and I just keep thinking he was slated to turn out as well as he did (in terms of behavior).

Ed and I have both been waiting for Andrew to grow out of it.


Catherine Johnson said...

It's up!

Don't try this at home...

Anonymous said...

In Zig Engelmann wrote (chapter 4 page 45):
"What happens when strong habits are punished? When strong habits are effectively punished their rate and strength will increase for a short period of time and they drop off dramatically. The figure below shows the typical trend.The figure shows the rate of screeching for a child...

During the first six minutes of the record, the child is not punished and the rate of screeching is about six per minute. As soon as the
punishment begins, however, the rate of screeching accelerates to the top of the chart. It remains
high for about fifteen minutes, during which the punishment continues. Then it begins to drop
off. The punishment continues; however, the learner is also receiving reinforcement for some
quiet periods. Finally, 22 minutes after the punishment begins, the learner’s rate of screeching has dropped to nearly zero...

...Teachers frequently misunderstand the nature of effective punishment. They observe that when they “punish” a response, the rate increases. They take this as an indication that they are doing something wrong. They discontinue the punishment, not knowing that what they were doing was
appropriate, the proof of which was the escalation of the learner’s responses. In the end, they strengthen the inappropriate behavior each time they quit, because they stopped before it was
eliminated. This demonstrated to the learner that indeed the response is powerful and useful. The next time somebody tries to extinguish the inappropriate behavior, they will have to work harder than the teacher would have this time. (In the example above, if the teacher discontinued the
punishment at 20 minutes, the learner would have received a demonstration that screeching
works: “In the end, the screeching will make the teacher go away.”)"


Anonymous said...

That last scene is hysterical. There are a couple of non-verbal scenes that go on for 10 minutes or more, I think. Both actresses are just amazing in it. I can't get over how good Patty Duke is at such a young age. I've seen remakes, but no one touches her, IMO.

Ole' Annie Sullivan would have been hauled off in handcuffs today.

The dvd was on sale at Amazon along with some other classics.