April 19, 2012

Our old enemy: The Different

I am on a quest to desensitize da Creature to da DIFFERENT.

 "How's that workin' for 'ya, da mama?"

Yeah.  About as well as one would expect. The Different is definitely the enemy, and we have had one of the hardest years so far with him as The Different eclipsed us and his beloved sister left for college.

The picture here is iconic for me---him, desperately clinging to her, her getting ready to fly away into her happy beginnings.  Sadly for da Creature there is an equally HUGE Different looming on the horizon which he doesn't know about yet.  We are still learning to manage all the little ones, but this one is bigger than all the ones before and so, I must, in the mean time, help him practice managing the storm of emotions that flood him every time something happens that is even the slightest bit:

  • not expected
  • not the same
  • the same plus extra
  • exciting
  • disappointing
  • tragic
  • unwanted
  • time consuming
  • uncontrollable
  • dangerous

"Practice?  What do you mean PRACTICE?  How do you practice uncontrollable and dangerous (and all those other things) and WHY ON EARTH would you want to?"

Because he will never, ever, ever learn how to function in the face of The Different unless I lead him there, teach him what reactions are, help him see the pattern of reactions he has (which are often violent, loud, embarrassing, and vicious) and then one by one, slowly, over time, have them occur often enough not to overwhelm and shut him down but cause him to reflect on the last disaster, use our plan for the next, then modify what he tries.  The trial and error on this one is brutal because he lacks insight into his own emotions, and the ability to use expressive language to talk through reactions.  He's also got terrible impulse control so stopping him BEFORE he physically reacts to The Different is quite the parenting gauntlet.

"Won't this just make him anxious and fearful all the time?  Don't kids NEED structure and stability to be psychologically healthy?"

At what point did we define stability in terms of control?  How effective are we at controlling everything necessary to keep up with our child's sensory issues?  How long can we keep that up?   It's awful.  On the one hand, you want to protect your child and your life, and your sense of safety and well-being, and you project that as a NEED onto your child's life, like he really needs all of this controlled environment just to get through the day, but what I've observed within myself  is that what I'm actually doing is self-protective.

You see, the more of The Different I can banish, the quieter and more predictable our life is.  Quiet seems better, because noisy and fist-pounding scary is, well, scary.  But worse, it's embarrassing, like I didn't raise him right and can't discipline him.

So there are a some things I have to get used to before we can practice The Different in all its ugly glory---

  • he is going to react
  • people are going to notice
  • people are going to judge
  • people are going to share their parenting advice
  • I will not be able to prevent his reactions
  • I will not be able to explain his reactions every time

But---and here's the big reason behind the need to practice---There is peace and quiet after, and remorse on his part.  It's frightening to feel so out of control.  His need to control is as great as mine, and teaching ourselves to walk through The Different without allowing the reactions to dominate our life is a magnificent skill that can only be learned through repetition, reflection, and tweaked repetition.

So, my advice?  Get thee out there and take it all as it comes.  Let him react.  Let it be as awful as it's gonna be.  Love him ferociously anyway.  Don't take crap off of the other parents.  Don't let him see you flush with shame.  Let him know he is going to be OKAY, and this is a procedure, not a rule.  Procedures we practice until we get them right.  Rules we discipline and correct.

Improperly managing sensory overload is NOT a character flaw.  Hitting mommy with your book in a grocery store probably is, so he gets three shots at self-control.  He gets just three times he can hit mommy with a book before we declare it a character flaw and make not hitting mommy with books a rule.  Hopefully, if all goes well, he'll hit mommy with a book the first time, then next time he'll smush a banana in mommy's general direction, and finally, if all goes well, he'll look at me and bark that it's loud and shiny and he HATES it.  To which I'll reply....good job, let's keep tweaking.

Someday, he'll go in a grocery store and know it's loud and shiny and he hates it and connect having to internally and privately manage those feelings and his need to react to them with the concept that without grocery stores you don't get food and clothes and betta fish.  Someday, the payoff for being there (wherever The Different lurks)  is better than the pain of having to ignore so very much.  Someday, he'll work it out.

That's NEVER gonna happen if I leave him at home while I run errands or go to the grocery while he's at school to avoid having to take him with me.  Never.

We can do this.  We can beat The Different down until there isn't a Different we don't know what to do with.  The good news?  The payoffs are tremendous.  The bad news?  It's gonna suck for a very long time.  I hid in my house for a couple of years while we were learning how to deal with sensory issues.  I've had to force us back out there.  It's hard, but I'm really glad we're toughing it out.  Someday you'll drive by our house and there'll be a dead dragon in the front yard with a plaque which reads "The Last Resting Place of The Different."

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