Communication with the school about daily events is a pivotal point of contact between both parties on the front line. Junior’s school report is not a happy one. It is a recurring theme, spitting at school. Bad habit or perseverating? He spits at home too but we are here to deal with these incidents. When he is at school we are virtually powerless. It is sad to note, that of all the many skills that we would love him to generalize, [translation = be able to repeat in different geographical locations and times] spitting isn’t one of them. We have used a variety of tactics to curb this habit, thus far they have all failed.
There is a veritable panoply of tools available to the parent of the autistic child and whatever current crisis that you are currently experiencing.
We started with the most obvious first step, namely the basic threat – ‘stop spitting or we’ll whip your gizzard out.’ [note to self – research location and function of ‘gizzard’] We moved swiftly onto step two –’it’s duct tape for you matey!’ [translation = an option limited to fellow Americans] We then trolled through our usual options, the social stories, [translation = “Carol Gray’s site”] the sticker motivational option, the negative count. [translation = count the number of times that you didn’t do it, when you wanted to do it, and compare with the number of times that you couldn’t resist, then gradually tip the balance in favour of the later] This method is useful for the child that loves to count. I suspect that they enjoy it purely for the counting exercise, but that is immaterial if it brings positive results. Then the logical ‘germ’ talk, which often works well with the OCD kind of a kid, but to be used with cautious due to backlash of temporarily tamped down neurosis. The superclean child who is learning to be less so, is likely to react negatively to such a suggestion. This may result in all the reduced OCD habits re-emerging like a plague. It is a brave parent indeed, who will risk fiddling around with the status quo of the OCD.
We occasionally try out more conventional measures such as the ‘big boy’ appeal or ‘make me proud’ guilt trip, just in case something might have changed and we failed to notice the development. On the whole the last two are a waste of breath since no-one has any desire to grow older, nor be regarded as older, and ‘maturity’ is not rated as a strength. This is to say nothing at all about the unlikely or remote desire, to engender pride in anyone or anything. It always amazes me that these two most powerful tools in the average parents’ arsenal of tools, are actually the most worthless ones for the parent of an autistic child. But we haven’t forgotten their existence and we throw them into the mix every so often just to check the status quo. I fear, that should someone ever unexpectedly respond to either of these two appeals in the future, that I might suffer an attack of the vapours if not properly mentally prepared in advance.
In summary, the ‘spitting’ issue is a recurring one that we have yet to deal with successfully by any of the above means, as well as a whole host of others that I haven’t mentioned, due to time and space constraints, as well as the boredom factor. In the meantime, I think.
I prepare myself mentally and take him to one side so that we may both ‘clean our teeth.’ It’s a slow business for me, as access to my mouth is minimal after jaw surgery. I use a lot of face cloths to clean myself up before we retire to my bed, where my wipe board waits. I write, he reads.
“I SAW YOUR SCHOOL REPORT.”
“I had a bad day today.”
“I WISH I COULD SPIT LIKE YOU.”
“You cant spit.”
“Why you cant spit?”
“AFTER THE SURGERY MY MOUTH DOESN’T WORK PROPERLY.”
I pull an exaggerated sad face. His finger tips brush my lips.
“I can see? Open dah mowf please?”
I oblige revealing braces, lumps of plastic and enough elastic bands to play cats cradle to professional Olympic standards.
“I HAVE A DEAL!”
“HOWABOUT YOU CAN SPIT AGAIN WHEN MY MOUTH IS BETTER AND I CAN SPIT AGAIN TOO? CAN YOU WAIT UNTIL WE CAN SPIT TOGETHER?”
“You want to spit with me?”
“SURE I’D LOVE TO SPIT WITH YOU.”
“You are the sad one?”
“I AM A LITTLE BIT SAD BECAUSE MY MOUTH IS ALL WONKY.”
“I fink maybe I can wait a bit. You are better tomorrow?”
‘I GET BETTER EVERY DAY BUT IT MIGHT BE A LONG TIME UNTIL I CAN SPIT LIKE YOU DO.”
“How long is dah long time?”
“I DON’T KNOW. TELL YOU WHAT, WHEN MY MOUTH IS BETTER WE CAN SUCK UP CHOCOLATE PUDDING WITH STRAWS TOGETHER AND THEN BLOW IT OUT.” [translation = an exercise recommended to help with lip closure and breath control!]
“You cant blow evver.”
“I KNOW. CAN YOU WAIT UNTIL WE CAN DO IT TOGETHER.”
“May be……….but I will not be blowing dah chocolate pudding out because I am liking to be eating it. You can blow it out though, coz I know that you are hating dah chocolate pudding.”
The ‘Theory of mind’ dies again. Horray!