If you were to ask my oldest Son George who is the boss in our house, he would answer without hesitation “It’s Mammy”, and he’s right. Louise is definitely the “unofficial” leader of our household. As I write this, she has in fact just referred to herself as “the female boss”. George and I are modern men, we know our place, and we like the quiet life. Oliver on the other hand is an entirely different story. It is very clear that he believes that he is the boss of this house. He marches to the beat of his own drum, expects us to work around him and respond to him, and in general we have gone along with this up until the point of his autism diagnosis. The vast array of healthcare professionals we now have helping us have advised us that this is one aspect of Oliver’s behaviour that needs to change.
The biggest example I can give you is what we call “the dragging”. If Oliver wants anything, he will take one of us by the hand and drag us to what he needs. This is one of his ways of communicating and it’s very effective when used correctly. However, Oliver takes this trait, multiplies it by autism, and the result is that we end up being dragged places for reasons that are obvious only to Oliver and we are then arranged in certain ways. He will quite often drag one of us to another room in the house and then simply leave us. There seems to be no logical reason why. If we try to leave and go back to what we were doing, he will drag us back again. It doesn’t make any sense to us but it obviously does to him. This can be quite difficult if you actually have something to do such as cooking tea, or doing the ironing or other household jobs.
Another good example is when other people visit our house. This can be pretty much anyone but it is usually Louise’s parents. When Oliver realizes that they are here, he will take them, and Louise and I in turn, and lead us to the sofa where he sits us together. In effect, he is arranging us to his liking, and lining us up. He will even adjust our heads to look a certain way if he doesn’t like the look of one of us. We quite often have to stay like this for some time and if we try to leave the sofa when we think he is not looking, he becomes quite distressed and immediately tries to lead us back. This makes offering our guests a cup of coffee more than a little bit tricky I can tell you!
One of the hardest realizations about this, is that Oliver almost never includes George in this process, which is particularly difficult to accept as George wants so much to be included in Oliver’s little games, and yet there are times when Oliver barely seems to notice his older brother. We have learned that this is not an uncommon reaction from children with autism. They very often respond more favourably to, and are more gregarious in the company of adults, and this is because adults are usually more predictable than children. That being said, there have been one or two more positive signs of constructive play between our two boys in recent weeks, but that’s for another post.
Getting back on topic, and it is by no means restricted to family when it comes to Oliver and his desire to arrange people to his liking. We have many visitors to this house on a weekly basis now, and most of these are healthcare professionals who come to work with Oliver to try and help him to develop his communication skills. Oliver is indifferent to most of these visitors, and the results of their attempts to get through to him can be quite varied. He resists many of their advances but when persistence is applied, he will eventually cooperate and respond in an appropriate and encouraging way. However, one such visitor last week was for some reason privileged enough to be singled out by Oliver for special attention. The poor lady from the Durham carers network spent much of her time here being placed where Oliver preferred her to be, to the extent that he continually adjusted her head throughout the appointment so she was facing the way he wanted her to. When we mentioned this a few days later to Olivers Portage Therapist, she was very keen that we start to take charge of this situation, and in doing so, take control back from Oliver in instances such as this. In essence, we had to become “the boss” again!
It is very difficult to follow through on this sort of thing however, as there are times when this behaviour seems genuinely harmless, amusing and endearing. However, it is definitely another thing that we needed to be aware of in the early stages of this unexpected journey that we find ourselves on with Oliver. So that is what we are trying to do, to take charge in such situations and tell Oliver that we are not going to let him drag us around. When you look at the individual processes involved in working with Olivers autism on a day to day basis, some of them don’t always make sense when assessed on their own. However, when you put all the aspects of Portage, OT, Speech & Language, and everything else together, you start to realize that they amount to more than the sum of their parts and they are all designed to help Oliver get to where he needs to be. It will be difficult of course, but it is for the good of us all as a family at the end of the day, and no one said this was going to be easy. That is one thing we have had to come to terms with very quickly!
At the end of the day though, we are extremely lucky that we have so much help, so early in Oliver’s life with this, and we will certainly take all the help and advice that we can get and use it to move forward. Time will tell how much these practices and techniques will help, but we have to believe that this is the right thing to do.