Too many days off from school increases anxiety in Charlie (and his parents), due to his sense of order being rendered very disordered.
An increase in anxiety in Charlie leads to an increase in his OCD behaviors, as these derive from his own attempts to maintain some sense of security and understanding about the world around him.
An increase in OCD behaviors has been shown to foment a neurological storm, as if (I'm speculating here) Charlie has had too much of his own orderings and is sick (ad nauseam) and tired of it, but doesn't know how else to proceed or to get out of said behaviors.
On the other hand, our trying to move him beyond or through or out of an OCD box can lead to severe cognitive dissonance in Charlie, a known prelude to head-banging.
Saturday after a fine trip to the beach Charlie and I went to the grocery store. We've gone several times, as in way too many times this week, all to fill in the time during the snow days. (Yes, I'm getting pretty nervous about Spring Break already, planning ahead as much as one can.) On Wednesday we were successful at going through the store without buying brownie mix. I'd been on guard about not getting that certain red box every single time we go to the store as Charlie's increasingly dogged insistence on getting the brownie mix, and his almost total disinterest in eating the brownies once made, have been a harbinger that this whole brownie business had gone from being a fun activity to a ritual in which, if everything isn't done just the right way, expect major unhappiness.
As you may have figured out from this build-up, the promise of sprinkles that resolved the issue on Wednesday (when Charlie had had three full days of school and was looking forward to another two days, which were not to occur thanks to Mother Nature overworking the snow machine) did not work at all on late Saturday afternoon. After I'd quietly shook my head to getting that red box (as we'd gotten it on Friday) everything went into slow motion with Charlie freezing and his face looking flat and troubled and then, storm and an immediate need in Charlie for deep pressure on his forehead and his mouth, and to knock several items (all paper packages, I felt very lucky) off the shelves.
(These, along with the way his face seems to lose affect are reasons that we and the neurologist continue to wonder about seizures or some sort of seizure activity in Charlie. Definitely got to reschedule that cancelled appointment.)
I got Charlie out to the parking lot and into the car without much else happening, but it took him a while to settle in the car.
Obviously stores are becoming increasingly, if not downright, difficult for Charlie to visit. How can we try to make it possible for Charlie to be able to go out to some places, even as we cross others off our list?
When Jim got home---he'd gone to see his mother in the nursing home---he and I talked about needing to keep changing up what Charlie does, including what he eats. I really don't think Charlie gets too much pleasure these days out of going into any stores, though he's done well grocery shopping with his school: They give him a shopping list (with photos and words of the items) and he finds them. I'd like to adapt this same strategy, but think it'll be a while before we attempt grocery stores again. The fluorescent lights and the shelves of choices and colors and the music coming from the speakers: Charlie is sensitive to everything and he probably can't help reverting into OCD mode when faced with too many stimuli.
Maybe you're wondering, if we know what sets up a said neurological storm, how come it keeps happening?
Not great but honest answer: Charlie's not a robot. Being a human being, he keeps changing. Lots of that changing is good and about him growing up. But it's really hard for him to get himself out of established and ordered ways of doing things (isn't it for all of us?) and sometimes the only way we all know the old order is so over, is when it's really really over.
But he does need us to help him move on and out of the OCD boxes that accumulate around him. It's an old thing with us that, after tough times, we ask Charlie to do something new, a bit challenging. Even a tiny bit of progress can make it all feel better. One of the problems with grocery store shopping is that Charlie has tended to want to get fewer and fewer items beyond the ones connected with whatever rituals are running through his head, and also to limit his food choices extremely. Maybe he'd like to try spaghetti with red sauce, but something in him just won't let him, and then he's stuck eating the same things that he's already tired of and doesn't feel like eating, and he's still hungry to boot.
Yesterday I figured Charlie had to be hungry after not eating since lunchtime and walking around at the beach. Safely back home, he helped himself to some crackers and, without wheedling or verbally insisting in Annoying Mom mode, I gave him a piece of a new food, a fishstick. Charlie choked it down without chewing and told me "no chicken" and I assented. A few minutes later I put a bowl of grapes out and offered him a few, and also the nong, crunchy crust from the bottom of the rice pot (a sometimes favorite), then walked away across the room.
Several minutes later, Charlie walked into the kitchen and put the box of crackers on the counter. I walked back over and saw that the bowl of grapes was empty and the nong half-eaten. Charlie asked for a pre-bedtime walk, put on his shoes and jacket and coat and gloves, and raced ahead amid the snow mounds, Jim happily hurrying to catch up.
"He doesn't want to be babied," Jim said to me later. As in, it's our sense that Charlie doesn't want to be caught in the obsessive routines he locks himself into and that he can't get himself out of; doesn't want to have to let a red box of brownie mix control his life. I don't know if there's any easy way to pull him out of that OCD box without kicking and screaming (figural and literal) but hard as it is, we're going to keep at it, red boxes of brownie mix notwithstanding.