Into every family, a little sibling rivalry must fall. The days are hurly-burly, with much screaming, throwing, door slamming, hissing and wailing to accompany them. The children cannot be left to play on their own, nor even with each other. The acre backyard will not be big enough to control their skirmishing. Mealtimes, bath times, and bedtimes – when the children are necessarily gathered – become a thing to be dreaded.
Right? Well, imagine my distress when I discovered I was wrong.
On a trip to the beach with our dear friends and their own 3 children, I looked over Noah’s tear soaked face to plead to my friend Rhonda, “Why are your children so QUIET?!?” She offered a few answers: I’m a strict disciplinarian (check); I told them public places require inside voices (ditto); and on and on. I was heart-broken. I couldn’t keep my children under control. What was WRONG with me?
And then Noah had his first sleep-over. We decided to take Grace and Jesse out to dinner. It was the quietest meal with children we had ever had. At home, the two played sweetly on the floor with each other. They went down for bed with nary a complaint. What was different? Noah, of course.
His nagging, his repetitive sounds, his theft of his sibling’s toys, the compulsive rubbing of his brother’s head, his inability to take turns; they were all missing. The patience of a four and two year old does not match that of their parents, and we realized that when he taxes US to our limits, his brother and sister are already past the point of insanity.
“Gracie, say hmmm. Gracie, say hmmm. Gracie, say hmmm.” “STOP IT, NOAH!!!”
This is our ride to school.
“Jesse, give me the train! Bad Jesse, Bad Jesse, Bad Jesse!” “NOOOOO NOAH!”
This is post-school playtime.
These are not gentle power struggles. These are shrill battles of will with physical aggression involved. I could go on, but I’m already eyeing the Ativan on the counter.
A sub-diagnosis of Noah’s is oppositional defiance disorder. Hard to believe, considering that Noah’s heart longs for approval and acceptance. His soul is tender and compassionate. This dichotomy is a part of who these children are: while they recognize that we are created for community, Aspergian kids cannot crack the entry code. Sometimes, fighting is the only way they know to make a connection.
Autism expert Dr. Jed Baker is quick to point out that 90% of teaching and parenting these kids is tolerance (just when I thought I’d already bit a big enough hole in my tongue….). “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone” (Hebrews 12:14). Peace is a rare visitor in our home, but the responsibility to model it lies with Matt and me. It starts with our own willingness to compromise, wait, understand, and apologize. A certain gentleman learned this lesson the hard way when I told him to go back and apologize for something he said to a stranger a few days ago. I won’t elaborate, but Matt, you know who you are.
Every one of our days involves an altercation. We guide Noah in the best direction we can, avoiding triggers (biological, sensory, or fear-based), creating a reward system for when he makes the correct choice, and most importantly, asserting the value of an apology – something that doesn’t come naturally to an Aspie.
Sometimes though. when we are very lucky, that apology does not have to be extracted but comes of its own accord. Like today, when Noah attacked his little brother for taking a LEGO off Noah’s shelf. After separating the two, I discovered this note at the entrance to Jesse’s nursery:
If you can’t speak Noah, it reads: “Jesse, I sorry. Here you go, good boy.”