August 6, 2013

It's a Good Life

Yesterday afternoon, Moe ran over to Jelly, grabbed her ponytail, and threw her to the floor. As far as I could tell, he wasn't being mean, just impulsive. She was frightened, of course, but not hurt. But we are living on edge.

Moe has been going through a very difficult time. He's been unhappy and aggressive. We've been severely restricted in what we've been able to do and where we've been able to go, even canceling our much anticipated visit to the beach on Saturday. We're doing everything we can to keep Moe calm and happy.

While we try to figure out the root causes of these behavioral changes, which are likely numerous and complex, we have been trying hard to avoid some of the trigger interactions. Moe, for example, likes to go in my bedroom. That's generally fine, but has become problematic when we ask him to leave the room. But saying no has also become a problem, so yesterday, when he wanted to go in, I let him. Same thing with playing with the iPad. It's become a bit frustrating for him so we've been trying to take a break from that as well. But I gave in when he asked.

I realized how much we've all been walking on eggshells around here. Everything and anything can be a trigger and we're doing whatever we can to keep him happy. I was reminded of the Twilight Zone episode called "It's a Good Life." In that episode, there is a boy with extraordinary godlike mental powers. He uses those powers to keep the town hostage, horribly punishing anyone he doesn't like. Everyone is afraid of him, but they do what he wants, constantly praising him and saying how good things are, and that the trouble he is causing is "a real good thing."

I used to think the moral of this episode had to do with what happens to kids without discipline. Through a behavioral lens, I certainly don't want to encourage Moe's aggressive behaviors by being too lax with him or letting him get away with things we wouldn't normally let him do, like climb on the kitchen counter, just to avoid a meltdown.

But there's more to the Twilight Zone episode. The parents have so little control over their son's behavior and I feel this frustration. I think this shines a light on how most children feel, controlling so few aspects of their lives. Parents make decisions with what must seem like godlike powers. This feeling would be even more exaggerated for a child with communication challenges. And while I think there is a lot going on with Moe right now, he certainly does seem to be trying to exhibit some level of control over his life. So perhaps letting Moe climb on the kitchen counter isn't being lenient, but is letting him choose his own snack by doing the one thing he can easily do: get it down himself.

Living in crisis mode doesn't leave a lot of time for writing. I hope to have a chance to describe how we are trying to figure out what is going on with Moe and why it is so complicated. For now, I'm going to enjoy a moment of relative calm in the house, and hope that I haven't just crossed over into The Twilight Zone.


  1. Oof. I'm sorry you're in crisis mode. We spent a long time there until we found the right combo of meds. Also, age and better communication skills helped Nik a lot. We had to set limits up front (still do) such as, I set a timer for x minutes and tell him that I'm doing it. Then I tell hm when the timer goes off (I actually say "when the number goes to 000 and it goes beep beep beep"), he has one more minute and then he has to stop/give back whatever it is, etc. it helps hm a lot. He doesn't do well with open-ended or hazy parameters. Don't know if you've already tried that with Moe, but thought I'd toss that out for you. Big hugs.

  2. Letting moe climb on the counter to get his own snack is an awesome way of letting him exert control over his own life.

    Letting moe climb on the counter anytime to avoid a meltdown, into your bedroom to avoid a meltdown, to longer as long as her pleases to avoid a meltdown, not telling him no to avoid a meltdown, not going to the beach to avoid a meltdown and basically holding everybody hostage to his meltdowns... not so much. It veers dangerously, dangerously close to reinforcing bad behavior.

    1. Yes, that's right. It's a fine line, and we are spending all our time and energy analyzing both his behavior and ours to make sure we are doing the right things. That said, sometimes we do the "wrong" thing for a little peace...for the whole family.

    2. What seems clear from a theoretical, behavioral perspective is much muddier in the complicated practice of parenting... there's the whole "be completely consistent" message which conflicts with the "pick your battles" message, and often both are given at the same time to parents by professionals, coaches and peers. We can explore our motivations ad nauseam - "Am I doing this to support independence, or to avoid a meltdown?" It's never very clear. Jen, you are bravely feeing your way through a series of behavioral experiments to see what works and what does not work for your family - thanks for speaking so candidly about it. Keep us posted and know that there is so much love out there for you, for Moe, and for your family.

  3. URGH I hate that line, and that you are having such difficulty with Moe. It must be beyond difficult to keep him happy and everyone safe. Sometimes it is so easy to give in, make life easier except it makes it much harder for your tomorrow.

    I really hope you get some respite. I cannot think of anyone else more deserving.

  4. Hi Jenni, you have to do what you have to do, just for self preservation. Parents of typical kids give in to their kids all the time just to avoid tantrums.
    The definition of intelligence is when you can adapt to different situations and know when you have to change your strategy depending in the situation. I give my child chocolate just because he was motivated enough to use the language to ask for it. We are just starting to reason, use logic and set limits with him, because he is only now having the social emotional maturity to allow for it.
    Someone can critcize you for not being strict enough, but special needs parents know that there is a balance between discipline and just keeping them socially motivated.


I love comments! Respectful disagreement always encouraged.


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