It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a hero-Not Otherwise Specified!----it's a tall boy in a fleece vest and hat pulled nearly over his eyes running up his grandparents' stairs hollering "Portia doggy I want Portia doggy!" and throwing himself on their couch.
I doubt if my kindly father-in-law was thinking about Superman when Charlie ran, unannounced, into his house this evening. (I was slow to follow because Charlie had hit the button for the automatic garage door and I was briefly locked out.) Charlie's ABA session was cancelled because his therapist was sick and, after a hurried present-wrapping session, he and I made the forty-minute ride to his grandparents, who were expecting Charlie's Aunt Kathy and her kids to visit, along with their dog, Portia.
After a hard-working day at school (I know; I visited this morning and observed a well-focused, cheerful Charlie sitting opposite his teacher), Charlie was glad to slump in the back seat and listen to the CD player. Within three blocks of my in-laws' house, he began a whine that became a scream: "I want Portia Portia doggy! Doggy!"
My in-laws' driveway was empty and dark: Charlie's aunt was unable to visit due to the transit strike. Charlie kept screaming for the dog and just kept screaming.
Could Charlieman overcome the Evil Stim Monster and leave his grandparents smiling?
My in-laws sat in their usual chairs and I sat beside Charlie who, battling through his need to see the dog, howled and kicked. And then he stopped and after about ten minutes, much more quickly than usual. (Of this I was not terribly surprised. When I had first observed him at school this morning, Charlie was crying on the floor due to someone else screaming, but in less than a minute he got up and went back to his desk with a smile.) "We have to go home for dinner, because Grandma and Grandpa didn't know we were coming," I explained. "Everybody go!" said Charlie, then "sues on!"
I had been able to speak at length of the curriculum director of Charlie's school this morning; she had noted that starting Charlie on a token system in which he had to earn five tokens may have been too much too fast. That is why he is now earning one token for one edible item. The director plans to gradually increase the number of tokens Charlie has to work for up to two, then three, etc.. As in our home ABA program, there seems to be a clear understanding that Charlie's knowing that he is being successful on his academic programs is directly connected to his having behaviors that endanger himself or others.
It has indeed been hypothesized that Charlie head-bangs because one of the "scripts" that he is running in his head gets interrupted. It can take as little as something happening one time for Charlie to decide, "it will always be this way": That he will always have sushi after a bike ride, or put the purple puzzle piece in last because he did that once with his fifty states puzzle when he was 2 1/2 years old. Indeed, it has been several months--perhaps it was last Christmas?--since we saw Portia the (small, brown) dog. Charlie has fed her dog treats two or three times under his uncle's careful supervision. So Charlie screamed because Portia was not at his grandparents' house in accordance with the script he had set up in his head, and the disruption so bothered him that it almost hurt.
We did not ask Charlie to "be quiet" or tell him "stop that crying now!" My in-laws and I talked about how packed Penn Station must be and how in the world Jim was getting home tonight and, before long, we could hear ourselves talking because Charlie was listening, not crying. "Bad" behaviors do not simply disappear but get replaced by other behaviors (as an ex-smoker might start chewing gum) and drawing attention to the "bad" behavior--"do you miss it?"--is not exactly helpful. Good autism education involves the teaching of appropriate behaviors in place of inappropriate ones (head-banging; repetitive speech; high-pitched squealing).
The Evil Stim Monster put to rest, Charlieman returned to his "merely human" form as Charlie and ate, showered, sang "Dipp dipp dopp lill' Apwil s'owerrs" in his sweet angel's voice. He was tired and wanted "bedtime" at 9.30pm but tossed and turned until 11pm--perhaps that Stim Monster had sneaked a sliver of kryptonite into my little superhero's thoughts and it was weakening his resources.
I went upstairs to where Charlie was semi-wrapped in a mess of twisted blankets. I smoothed them out and put the little fleece blanket my mother had given him in November on top. "Goodnight, Charlie," I said.
"School bus," said Charlie, big-eyed.
"Yes, the bus will come tomorrow. Try to sleep, sweetheart."
"Goo night. Mommy stairs."
Goodnight, my super-dee-duper hero-NOS.