Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Children that commit violent acts

With a heavy heart I watched along with the rest of the world as news media announced the worst mass murder in the history of our county. Twenty innocent little lives stolen by gun violence, it is unimaginable to think of how a person could take the lives of children. The shooter, a suspected Aspie, was a victim of a failed mental health intervention by his mother or whoever else charged with caring for him.  I understand that the shooter’s mother supposedly suffered in silence dealing with him. Reports indicate that she rarely discussed the shooter’s “condition” or his mental health status. She didn’t even tell his childhood babysitter specifics about his condition only stressing that her son was not to be left alone, ever. My question is why this mother would expose her mentally unstable son [whom I suspect was given the diagnosis of Aspergers as a cover for his true antisocial nature] to guns as a means of recreation. She had to think, given his mental challenges; there was a chance that he would use guns inappropriately. 

Okay, so back to my theory that his Aspergers diagnosis was just a front for his true pathology of antisocial or psychopathic behaviors. Many troubled and behaviorally challenged children may get the diagnosis of Aspergers because in the mental health community most Aspergers kids have the common problem of being easily frustrated or quick to anger, lacking empathy, and social awkwardness. Well, guess what? Psychopaths or Antisocial personalities can be socially awkward as well. Not all Antisocial personalities are as charming like Christian Bale’s portrayal of the American Psycho; however, all clinically diagnosable Antisocial personalities do lack empathy. This is how they are able to commit mass murders and serial killings.

Contrary to belief, Aspies do possess the capability for empathy…they just have problems expressing empathy.  And, they may not have the same level of empathy for certain things/situations as an NT is expected to have. For instance, my son Marty had his first progress evaluation for preschool and surprisingly [I am being sarcastic here] the teacher says he has challenges in his social development, specifically as it relates to showing empathy and interacting with his peers and familiar adults. His teacher gave an example of how Marty will ignore a classmate when that classmate’s stacked blocks fall to the ground; yet, he is visibly upset when his blocks fall. And, for some reason Marty still has not bonded with his classmates. He chooses to hyper-focuses on one kid, Jayden, and will insist on doing everything with Jayden. Granted, I understand that Marty has issues relating to other kids; therefore, he really isn’t interested in making more than one friend.  And, I really don’t think the ‘stacked blocks’ scenerio was a valid example of Marty’s issues with empathy. I have seen him be considerate and empathetic with others that HE cares for. Had it been Jayden’s blocks to hit the floor, I am certain that Marty would have reacted with concern. With Aspies, they pick and choose who is allowed in their world; those outside of their world may not matter as much.  Sad, but true. For instance, earlier this week, Marty presented me with a lovely rock loosely shaped like a heart. He says, “This is the Heart Rock, it’s for you, so you can stop crying.” Awe, thanks; I think. Marty hates to see me cry; he gets upset…the angry, I wish you would stop crying because I can’t process that emotion, kind of upset though. Still, giving me the rock to acknowledge my emotional state was a nice touch. I think.
Back to the Connecticut shooting; it took me days to process my grief and confusion. To see the precious little faces of those beautiful victims left me in tears, angry, and wanting to blame someone or something. This tragic event prompted a debate on whether or not Aspies are prone to violent acts. Aspie-rage is now a topic of media conversation. Recently, a blogger disclosed the verbal and physical abuse she faces on a regular basis by her adolescent son [suspected of Aspergers]. She took a stand to show compassion for the shooter's mom. Although, my sympathies for the shooter's mom are limited, I do feel for the blogger. She is probably tortured by the thought of her son someday becoming a violent offender. I think about this as well. Marty is physically aggressive with me too. Just the other day, he pummeled me in the abdomen with his fists because I wouldn’t let him go with his brother to a friend’s house and several times a week Marty attempts to ram me with his head. I am trying to get him to manage his frustration and anger properly as I know ‘the system’ is quick to give black kids an ADHD or Behavioral Disorder diagnosis and put them on the pipeline to Conduct Disorder and prison, further supporting my belief that many black males [some may be non-violent offenders] in the prison system inadvertently get the, more severe, Conduct Disorder diagnosis when they probably should have an Aspergers or high functioning autism diagnosis and its co-occurring partner in crime, Oppositional Defiance Disorder. Likewise, Aspergers diagnosis has become the new black and because it is unethical to diagnose a kid [minor] with a personality disorder…many clinicians may choose to give them the ‘mild Aspergers’ tag. However, it’s a lot of bipolar and undiagnosed schizo-affective kids out here, and a bunch of immature sociopaths that the mental healthcare system can’t deal with. Sadly, many times it is those kids with extreme social detachment, varying degrees of depression, and little or no involvement with their family system that turn to deviance, violence, and crime. And more depressing, are the moms like that blogger, who turn to the healthcare system for help for their child only to discover that their is no real help. Thankfully, it is parents like that blogger that don't give up on their child and ultimately do find the answers they need.

I think, the Connecticut shooter had a serious mental illness that was not properly managed by his family. Perhaps his parents were too private about their son’s mental health. I believe it takes a village to raise a child. Marty knows most of the neighbors on our block, so if he happens to get out of the house [by himself] without my knowledge, he doesn’t get very far without a neighbor asking if his mom knows that he is out. By that time, I am on Marty's heels having heard the alarm on the door chime after Marty has left the house without permission. Most of my neighbors know that Marty is likely Autistic; I am not ashamed of this. I need my neighbors to know how to handle Marty as well as have awareness of his challenges. A couple of weeks ago, Marty was with his brother playing at a friend’s house. Marty decides to play with some of the girls on the block and proceeds to urinate in front of their house and ask them to watch. Well, the girls’ mother, although appalled by Marty’s inappropriate behavior, knows about Marty’s issues. She’s definitely upset about the incident, but she has a sense of compassion for Marty that keeps her from discarding him. Thus, the child is separated from the behaviors. Of course, after that incident, Marty is reprimanded by the neighbors, and then me; the fact that he is held accountable for his actions by someone other than me is a blessing that will further help Marty learn how to relate to others.
Even though Marty may not be wired to be ‘social’ like his NT peers; his experiences and exposure to his community has made his more conscious of what ‘society’ expects from him. Lesson learned – if you pee in front of the neighbor’s yard, you will be dealt with…more than once.  I think many kids become desensitized by their parent’s chastisement, but when that scolding comes from another adult in authority it adds a certain ‘shock value’ that leaves a lasting impression. Anyway, the point I am trying to make is this: kids that go on shooting rampages with the intent to murder and maim people probably do not have the social support, family system, and sense of attachment needed to give them pause, restraint, and the sympathy they require to prevent such acts. These kids definitely have serious mental illnesses [plural] that are either undiagnosed or improperly untreated.

It is important to remember that Aspergers is considered a developmental disorder not a mental illness. If the Connecticut shooter had a legitimate diagnosis of Aspergers, I guarantee that he had a co-occurring mental illness diagnosis as well and that he showed signs of mental distress and/or psychosis leading up to the shooting. May those 20 precious little people and the teachers that perished trying to protect them rest in peace.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Pondering aspie aggression and anger

So for the past few days, I’ve been reflecting on something that Aspie Dad said when I was talking to him about how Marty has this idea that, “No one tells him what to do,” yes, he actually says this to people. I tell Aspie Dad about the occasions were Marty gets visibly upset when he is given a command. There has been many occasions were Marty will attempt to avoid being given a direction [hiding when it is time for a bath] or deliberately doing the opposite of what he was told to do, like walking up the handicap ramp and not the steps. Marty can become very aggressive, when he is being told to do something while he is engaged in one of his special interests. I share with Aspie Dad that Marty reminds me of him. Aspie Dad often gets defensive when I approach him to merely discuss something like changing the litter box more frequently or remembering to close his bedroom window when it rains. If I come to him with a question related to something he has done, all the armor comes out; and I can sense that my point, my complaint, whatever I have to say is not getting through to him. Aspie Dad comments that he  is defensive because he feels as though he is being attacked. Hmmm, interesting. So in thinking about my Marty’s aggression related to directives that he does not want to participate in, does he feel like he is being attacked in those moments? Or does he really believe that no one should tell him what to do. He is frequently disciplined by our neighbor who has a short fuse with Marty’s bullying. For instance, one evening, Marty was told not to ride his scooter in the street. He complied by the rules on his first several trips down the sidewalk, but as soon as he noticed we were not paying attention [or so he thought] he started down the street full speed on the scooter. My neighbor yells for Marty to stop and waves for him to, “come here.” She confronts Marty, who appears angry and mumbling under his breath. Now, if this had been Max, he would have been ashamed [of being caught doing something he was told not to do] and holding back tears fearful of his punishment. But, this is Marty, he is not backing down. My neighbor explains to Marty that he had been told not to ride his scooter in the street. She confiscates the scooter and demands that Marty go play with something else. A stare-off ensues. Marty is puffed up and puckering his lips; my neighbor stares back with an equally angry face. I want to laugh, but I try to keep my composure. After ten minutes, Marty retreats to the yard to find another toy to play with. Victory is my neighbor's.

My observation of Marty, and sometimes his father, is that when they feel attacked or threatened they immediately go into defense mode or sometimes flight. They don’t take the time to consider if the threat is real, what is being said or done to them, or more importantly, how they can respond differently. Lately, I’ve tried to diffuse Marty’s anger before it turns into rage. It has been hard work. He can go from 0 to 100 in mere moments. Usually I am able to talk him down by giving him some alternative behaviors to choose from. For example, when Marty comes running out of his room demanding juice, ice cream, chips, or whatever, and I am busy, I calmly tell him that he needs to wait until I complete my task. I give him a time frame and suggest that he go back to playing and I will come get him when it is time for his juice. Or, he can wait patiently until I finish what I am doing. Marty usually chooses to wait in the room. When I finish, he will remind me of how he did a good job waiting. I tell him that I am very proud and reward his patience. This exercise only works for certain events though; my biggest challenge is getting Marty to comply with bath-time without getting upset.

Because of Marty’s quick temper, I feel like I am walking on eggshells around him. What is going to set him off this time? But, learning to recognize his “triggers” helps me control Marty’s level of aggression if not prevent it. Simple explanations, clear directions, appropriate rewards, and schedules help Marty cope and manage his world…yes, he refers to his life as, “his world.” I also learned to keep a handle on my emotions. Emotions [and some facial expressions] confuse Marty. He caught me crying one day, and screamed at me before he burst into tears and got mad. I had to fib and say that I was pretending to cry. This answer was just fine for Marty. Now, if he sees the least bit of perspiration on my face, he asks me if I am pretending to cry again. Apparently, this annoys him, he shouts at me, “Grown-ups aren’t supposed to cry!” Happy faces are suitable, unless of course they accompany spontaneous laughter in response to a clever remark by Marty that he feels should not be funny…but that’s another story. “Stop laughing at me.”
On my latest DVR viewing of the ever therapeutic Big Bang Theory, Leonard makes a snide comment about Sheldon’s lack of playing fair.
Leonard -Do you understand why people don’t want to play with you? Sheldon –No, although that’s a question that I’ve been pondering since preschool.


Monday, December 10, 2012

Re-visiting the seperation and divorce conversation

So yesterday I had a long discussion with Aspie Dad about filing for legal separation. He seemed hesitant to discuss these matters as I assume he’d rather pretend that everything is fine so that we can continue to co-exist like college roommates. He started out very defensive as he expressed his interest in having joint custody. When I probed him for the reasons why he needed joint custody he explained that he wouldn’t have to pay child support if he had joint custody and besides, “he’s a good dad and he hasn’t done anything wrong.” Here we go again. I explain to Aspie Dad that my desire is to have full and or primary custody of the boys seeing as though I am their main caregiver, they are very attached to me  and since their birth, I have made most of the major decisions related to their well being. This was something Aspie Dad could not dispute. He mentioned that he didn’t quite understand and should probably get a lawyer. “Fine,” I say, but advise him that if he contests my wishes for primary custody, there would be a custody battle and it probably won’t be the best thing for our boys. In Aspie Dad’s mind, he sees the boys staying with him for one week, then with me for one week, and this is how it would be until they are adults, I guess. Immediately, I object to this arrangement. Wouldn’t it be easier to just pick the boys up on the weekends and during the week day [when they have a sporting event], than to disrupt their living arrangements by shifting them back and forth between two different houses. I point out that Aspie Dad’s living situation would probably not be on the same quality as mine considering how he keeps his car, his room [my bad, “the room that he sleeps in.”] and the fact that I have done most of the home maintenance, decorating, and repairs in our current home. Aspie Dad argues that he keeps, “that [I mean his] room” in disarray as a silent protest. WTH! I guess his reference to the room as, “The room that I sleep in.” is part of the protest as well. I reminded him that his children have seen his disorganized junkie room and this disarray reflects badly on him. Silence. Back to the ‘separation’ thing; after Aspie Dad admits that the boys would probably be better suited with me as the primary guardian, he asks if we would have separate bank accounts. Yes! Then he wants to know what is going to become of our shared credit card debt. I reply that he probably needs to get an attorney to explain these concerns for him. He is under the impression that I want to share his check, and make him pay on my 2 credit cards once I divorce him. I guess I have to remind him that these are the credit cards that were once paid off, but he and I both had to start using to purchase gas and groceries when he was fired [or as he puts it, laid off] from his job. Aspie Dad comments that if he isn’t living in the house than his name shouldn’t be on the mortgage. Sorry buddy, that ain’t my problem. I don’t want the house, and would actually rather move out than stay in the house that he has neglected to take care of over the years. At first he wanted to live in the house, but now he feels that the boys should remain with me in the house. Thanks for coming to your senses, but at this point I think I would be happier in a 2 bedroom apartment…this house is too much work for a working-woman with special needs kids. I need a home that has had proper maintenance and does not have leaks, cracks, worn-out carpeting, out dated fixtures, a faulty heating system, fractured and unrepaired window and door frames, and a front lawn that turns into a small swimming pool when it rains. Most importantly, I’d like the freedom to live without inhaling the pungent odors of blow-off from the nearby roofing manufacturer on a regular basis. You see, I never intended on living in what I thought was a “starter home” for ten years. I estimate that after years of neglect it would take about $10,000 to fix up this house. So, we move on to Aspie Dad’s favorite topic of how I never loved him to begin with. It’s hard for him to comprehend how I could have loved him years ago, but now I don’t. He didn’t do, “Anything wrong!” I explain to him that he may not have done, “Anything wrong!” but I have grown and evolved in ways that he has not, and this makes us incompatible. “We both deserve to have companions that can meet our needs.” I explain that there is someone out there in the world that he has more in common with. I interject that I still long for more children; I deserve to have an opportunity to find a suitable likeminded partner to share my dreams with. Aspie Dad appears shaken. He asks if he can call his mom because this is too much to take in, he’s never been divorced before, and he is confused. He remarks that he feels like he might vomit. I advise him to call his mom, but try to de-stress first. We move on to discuss Marty and how challenging it is to parent him. Aspie Dad brought up an incident where he spanked Marty in public for throwing his golf club. He said that he felt that Marty learned his lesson from having been spanked. I share with Aspie Dad how Marty is often aggressive, unruly, and defiant with me, his teachers, my mom, my friends, and even strangers, and I fear that without intervention this behavior will become worse as Marty gets older. I ask Aspie Dad if he is ready to admit that Marty has some ‘issues’ that have nothing to do with how I parent. I ask him what he would do if Marty was officially diagnosed with Autism. He says that he would be sad because no parent wants something to be wrong with their child. I reply, “How would you feel personally?” For some reason he is unable to express and own his personal feelings, but in my heart I believe that Aspie Dad would be ashamed of having a child diagnosed with Autism because it would expose his own shortcomings. I share with Aspie Dad my feelings and worries for the children if they don’t get the kind of help that they need to cope with their respective challenges, and also comment on my newfound love for The Big Bang Theory. I explain how the main character of the show most likely has Aspergers, but he is so successful in his career and fulfilled with his life that he is happy and content with being different. In fact, Sheldon [the protagonist of The Big Bang Theory] thinks that he is somehow intellectually superior to everyone else. I share with Aspie Dad how this show gives me hope that Marty can have loyal friends, a purposeful career, and a happy life in spite of his differences. I offer to play one of the DVR’d episodes while Aspie Dad gets his bearings. Marty happens to walk by while the show is on and says to his dad, “Hey dad, you’ve got to see this part; It is so funny.” Chuckle, chuckle.  I am shocked to learn that Marty has actually been watching “Big Bang,” I thought that he and his brother were busily playing while I watched the show. I’d have the show on as I cooked or folded laundry while they played DSI, wrestled, or just ran around the room. So we all sit down to watch as the Jewish character, Wolowitz, inadvertently pours milk down his pants without knowing that his ‘magic show’ milk pitcher had been switched out with a real pitcher of milk. Marty laughs at the punch-line and commences to push his toy car along the edge of the couch. For a brief moment, I allow myself to envision Max and Marty home from college sitting on the couch in our family room watching re-runs of The Big Bang Theory laughing hysterically at the punch-line. In my fleeting vision of the future, life is good. And in my spirit, I know that everything is going to be alright. Introducing The Great Howdini

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Marty's keen sense of smell

The other day my neighbor and good friend called me over to help her identify the origin of a suspicious smoky smell in her home. With the boys in tow, we entered my friend’s home welcomed by the smell of burning plastic. Marty is usually very sensitive to odors but surprisingly he was more interested in going for the peppermint candy jar instead of explaining why the before mentioned odor smelled badly. Recently, Marty has taken an interest in complaining about various odors and smells in our home. “This pillow doesn't smell good.” “Whatever you are cooking smells like something kids should not eat.” And, my favorite, “This poop smell must be from the cat because dogs poop outdoors.” Thanks for that fascinating fact, Marty. Any who, Marty’s hound doggish sense of smell knows no bounds. As a form of entertainment and payback for being called stupid for the third time that day, I challenged Marty to identify the source of the mysterious smoky odor. Keep in mind this is a four year old kid with suspected Aspergers, so it is not uncommon for these kids to have an acute sense of smell [or sensitivity to certain smells]. Therefore, my experiment is validated and not child abuse. LOL. I ask Marty to tell me where that strange smell is coming from. Marty is eager to please. He immediately walks toward the refrigerator. “It’s coming from here.” “Are you sure?” I say. Marty – “Yes, what is in here?” My response, “Food.” Marty stands in front of the refrigerator perplexed. I assure him that everything is okay and we all go outside to await the fire truck. Meanwhile, Max is delighted that he has an opportunity to stay out late and practice popping wheelies on his scooter. "Is there a fire or something, why is the fire truck here?" yells Max, Where has he been for the pass thirty minutes, I wonder, must be the ADD. Once we are outside, Marty slips off to solitude in his room and playing with his trains. My neighbor remarks on how Marty is, “through with us.” Incidentally, she is one of Marty’s favorite persons – she doesn’t back down to Marty’s attempt to control and dominate the situation, and surprisingly they have similar personalities…by personality, I mean that they are both, meanies. LOL, [I think]. As we all await the firemen’s assessment of the suspicious smell, we notice the firemen’s smoke detector device thingy “going off” as he approaches the refrigerator.  The fireman concludes that the burning smell is coming from the refrigerator. Apparently, the compressor is out.  Well, Marty was right after all. I jokingly say that it is time to get the business cards printed cause Marty is straight-up gifted…”The smell whisperer.”  My neighbor friend is amazed. Marty is so smart and witty, sometimes I forget he is still a baby – a precocious little four year old with a deep voice and an affection for big words.