Hands are the enemy

A bit extreme perhaps. Maybe we should rephrase to something a bit more positive 'hands are not are friends.' Not really an improvement. Tell you what, I explain the problem and you come up with a new title? Up for a challenge?

So, what is so bad about hands? First things first. It's not exactly the hands, more like the receptors on the hands, especially the finger tips and especially especially the normally favoured finger tips, namely the index finger. [translation = pointer] Either he has 100 receptors in the spot where you and I have just a few, or alternatively, he has the same number or receptors but they are wrongly calibrated. Thus, where we have enough nerve endings to determine whether a surface is rough or smooth, he doesn't want to put his receptors to the test, because he already knows that one feels like broken glass. So if you, as the parent, say 'come along Fred, run your hand along this barbed wire fence,' you, Fred, not unreasonably, run a mile and report your mother to the Child Protection league on route.

Alternatively, mother passes you your pyjamas, right out of the tumble drier, ' come along Fred, pop them on whilst they're still warm.' Warm? Warm! What are you trying to do to me? Book me a spot in the Burns Unit and make it pronto! This woman is determined to finish me off.

So it's a question of degree. Sometimes I wonder why he has hands at all since they are patently of so little use to him. My hands are a pretty ordinary, if large, pair. On the whole they obey me. Most of the time I don't even have to think about actively using them, they just do my bidding. If, like my son, I would prefer not to use my hands, life would be a lot trickier to navigate. He appears disenchanted with his hands and finds many ways to avoid using them. For instance, unless you have slip on shoes, you will probably need to use your hands to assist your feet. If you merely prod your velcroed closed shoes with your foot, it's likely that you're not going to get anywhere far, or at least not with your shoes on.

Try this experiment. You will need a banana, a hair brush and a receptacle of drinking water.

Have you ever tried to eat without using your hands? No, not without cutlery [translation = flatware] just without your hands at all? Believe me, I've tried it and it's not easy. Even if your food is something simple, like a banana [a peeled

one] it's really difficult to eat it off the table top without those little pinkies jumping in to help. It's so instinctive that it's difficult to suppress.
O.k, now throw the banana away, or nudge it with your forehead, make sure that you are sitting on your hands, and put the hair brush in it's place. Line up your head and start brushing your locks. Any luck?

Easier still – take a bottle, glass or cup of water to the table and try to drink it. No straws, that's cheating. My bet is that you'll end up trying to drink like a cat, sort of lap it up? Otherwise you'll end up tipping it over into your lap. Not very efficient and you're not likely to get much more than a couple of inches down.

What is the point of this? Good question. The point, in part, is that the parent needs to identify 'deficiencies' in the child. Ignore the negative connotations for the moment. Once this is done, the parent can devise ways of making 'hand use' less aversive. If you use your hands often, whilst it may never become 'instinctual' as we would generally mean, at least we can move towards being friends with our hands, because without them, life can be unnecessarily difficult. It's not a cure but it probably is 'therapy.' Whilst 'therapy' and 'cure' are often considered 'bad' words with respect to autism, addressing issues that your child has difficulty with would not seem, to my biased mind, entirely fruitless.

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No-one is immune. Or more especially, people who believe that they are normal, may find that they drift up a blind alley unwittingly. Not me of course. I don’t hold with such wayward manners. British people don’t because of the ‘will of iron.’

Thus today, I was busy making cakes, corraling children with a bit of tidying thrown in before senior daughter returns, when I came across an old gift I was given. It is a little tube holding a very thin roll-on of essential oils. The label reads 'anti-stress.' The fine print, even with dodgy bifocals, tells me that it contains ‘lavandin.’ I wonder if that's a misprint? ‘Sweet orange, red tangerine and ylang-ylang’ essentials oils, whatever they might be when they’re at home? I roll it up and down the inside of my forearms and sniff it. Quite pleasant! I wait for my stress to dissipate. I take in a deep breath. Demands for ‘goldfish / find lost lego piece /when will my birthday cake be finished?’ also waft over me.

The smell is changing because of the warmth of my skin. I'm hot, I'm stressed, I'm pooped. It isn't even eight o'clock in the morning and I'm already exhausted. The 40 minute marathon to get them up and running, has been abandoned during the holidays, but we try to stay vaguely on track. We pretend that there is still a routine but no-one believes me. I'm like a wrung out dish towel. I'm ready to go back to bed. Perish the thought!

Because spouse was here this morning too, we divided our time between the children.. I spent half of those 40 minutes with senior son and his socks. He put each sock on and off 21 times. Each time he put one on I congratulated him, my performance was a tour de force. Each time I praised him he immediately ripped one off and threw it across the room. I would say 'oh well, try, try, try again,” with my best sunny face expression glued to the front of my head.

Some autistic children are not motivated to act for praise or to please someone else. The 'theory of mind,' or the ability to step into someone else's shoes just doesn't feature for many. This is a change of catastrophic impact on his young life.
He wants to fit in but it's tough. I remain calm. I make sure that my body is positioned in an open stance, close enough but not too close. I keep my hands soft and my face soft, so he can see that I am not affected by his behaviour. I'm here to support him, but I am not going to physically help him. “Too bad,” I say in sympathy with his frustration. I think I sound convincing. I hope I sound convincing. Then the upbeat 'You can do it, I know you can.” I flip flop between cheerleader and sympathy mode. I need a coach, so that I can be his coach.

Each minute passes slowly. I think Zen thoughts. I sniff. The sock pings past my nose again. I feign disappointment, I sympathise, and encourage. Each minute idles by. I'm ignoring everyone else leaving spouse to cope. One on one time, they tell me. Quality not quantity.

I let my shoulders sink and my brow unfurrow. I sniff orangey smells that waft around us.
“Why for you are sniff?”
“You are dah sniff!”
“I am?”
“Yes, you are needing dah tissue?”
“No thanks, I’m just smelling my arms. Here have a nif, they smell of oranges.”
“But I am hating oranges!”
“I know but these are nice ones, you’ll like it, really!” He sniffs, doubtfully. He sinks back into a seated position. Our eyes make true contact. He leans forward and sniffs again only to sink back. He sighs without words, picks up a sock, then the other. Finished! A pair!
“Well done!”[translation = great job] I hug him, deep proprioceptive input. His fingers gouge into my shoulder blades. I hear him sniff.

For another adult perspective on OCD and medications that might help, please visit my pal “Lotta” at “Mom O Matic” for a breathtakingly frank opinion.

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