Explain This to Me.

One of the residues of my desperate adherence to Applied Behavior Analysis was the silly conviction that there is no point of explaining anything to Robert.  It is possible that this conviction was a result of a faulty reasoning but, nonetheless, I assumed that I should only apply behavioral methods across the day.  Firstly , it was simpler.  I didn’t have to guess what Robert wanted.  Secondly, since Robert never explained  anything to anybody how could he grasp my explanations? Of course, I heard of “Social Stories”, but  they existed in the parallel universe of different approaches to children with autism.  Robert’s school didn’t use them with Robert  so I didn’t either.

Robert was ten or eleven years old.  It must had been the summer, because days were long and evenings warm. And it was such a warm ,summer evening when Amanda, Robert, and I returned from a grocery store.  Robert seemed “tense”, so I asked him to go to the back yard and relax on the hammock.  Amanda and I carried shopping bags to the kitchen. I asked Amanda to stay in the backyard close to  Robert.  Just in case.  I didn’t finish unpacking the groceries yet when Amanda came back complaining that there were  many mosquitoes outside.  She  had asked Robert to come home, but he didn’t want to. I ran to get spray, but couldn’t find it. I went to the backyard and told Robert to come home. I said that impatiently in this “do it or else” kind of voice.  He sat,  grabbed, and pinched my arms.  Then he hit his own face with both hands.  Mosquitoes were swirling around.  With all the TV’s warnings about  cases of diseases caused by mosquitoes I couldn’t let Robert stay.  So I  picked him up from the hammock. I am not sure if I carried him, dragged him, or if he walked behind me at least part of the way. I don’t remember how we got home.  I remember that Robert was  unhappy.

There is nothing he despised then and despises now more than being confused.  He was confused because  I confused him.  I told him to relax on the hammock and then told him to go home. Moreover, I said  that in this obnoxious tone of voice that indicated to him that he had done something wrong.

I understood much later  that Robert was not upset because he wanted to stay outside.  He was upset because he couldn’t do what he was told to do – stay outside on the hammock.  He wanted to follow directions but he couldn’t follow contradictory directions. 

He was upset for quite a while.  He made grunting noises interrupted by louder screams.  He kicked the bed he was on. Meantime, I asked Amanda to help me make a short book about this incident.  As the noises of disgruntled Robert still were coming from his bedroom Amanda and I quickly concocted a book that described what had just happened.  Amanda made a great drawings of Robert on the hammock and mosquitoes menacingly approaching him from all sides, mother running to his rescue with arms in the air, a person suffering from mosquito’s born illness.  This “creative” improvisation took us no longer than 15 minutes. It was not a classical social story telling what to expect or what is appropriate behavior in a particular situation.  It was a story in which I explained myself to Robert.  We both, Amanda and I,  explained to Robert his own reactions. As we read this book together, Robert looked at us in a way he had never looked before.   He was grateful.