“Somebody forgot something…”
Always my first thought when I look at the phone at 9:00 in the morning to see it is my children’s school calling. If the call comes in the afternoon, someone is either sick or in trouble.
So, the morning calls are always the preferred calls to get from the school.
“Hi mom. It’s Catelyn. I forgot I was supposed to wear my pink Girls on the Run shirt to school today. Could you please bring it in?”
My eyes were wide with how nice she was being. I stuttered a little but finally got out, “Sure! I’ll drop it off shortly.”
I stopped what I was doing and went into Catelyn’s room. I walked to her dresser and pulled open a drawer. Then let out a sad sigh.
Anxiety and High Functioning Autism
When she was younger, every drawer was assigned a function. PJ’s, top left drawer. Socks and Undies, top right drawer, etc.
“Put your laundry away” is one of the chores I assign each child. I wash, I fold and place the clothes on child’s bed. After reminding, Cate will put her clothes away. As she wishes. Gone were the days of assigned drawers for clothes. Every item goes into the same drawer.
About a year ago, I decided to find organization in her drawers. I put the PJ’s back into the PJ drawer, shorts in the short drawer, etc. I placed bins in her room organizing her toys. I put a new shelf in her room for her new bins. To me, her room was perfect.
An hour later she had come home.
When she realized what I had done, all I heard was screaming. Stuff was being thrown, drawers could be heard moving in and out.
I went upstairs and looked in the hallway.
The bins I used to organize her toys were in the middle of the hallway, along with the shelf. When I looked in her room, her clothes were dumped out again all over her bed. Cate was crying, wildly throwing clothes back into random drawers.
I was shocked. And so, so sad.
I realize now I had changed a part of Catelyn’s world without her knowledge or consent. Where I thought she would be pleased, she actually felt out of control.
I was reminded of that day when I went searching for her pink shirt she needed at school. It took a lot of looking and a long while, but I finally located it. I pulled out the wrinkly shirt. Then shoved the rest of the clothes back in their randomly assigned drawers. I called for Declan and drove the shirt to her school.
NEED for Control
Parenting Catelyn is so incredibly difficult. I do not always fully understand what she is going through. In the past, we have worked through behavior charts based on rewards and consequences. We provide praise, we went through the “1, 2, 3 Magic!” to help gain preferred behaviors.
But they do not work for Cate. Cate doesn’t mind sitting in time out. I send Cate to her room, which she doesn’t mind. Her room has been emptied of its toys at times and she still is not fazed. She creates her play in her head. Cate could care less about getting an allowance for doing chores.
The immediate response is to discipline. Bad behavior = consequence. Not just for me. Cate interacts with coaches and teachers as well. Her need for control doesn’t stop at home. When asked to do something that violates her area of control, an extreme reaction will unfold. And then she will face sports or school related consequences.
With High Functioning Autism (HFA) Cate appears to function well on many levels. It is hard to see that her behavior, her meltdown, is a form of an anxiety attack. For me, and for anyone else.
Catelyn’s need for control is so high. If Cate does not have control of her world her anxiety spikes.
I must always keep in mind that Cate is NOT going out of her way to not comply with something I am asking her to do. She simply cannot overcome her need to be in control.
Cate will continue to work with her therapist. I will continue to try to explain her behavior to those who interact with her and be her buffer. And hope the work and understanding we provide to Catelyn today will help her find the ability to be flexible and compromise with the world around her in the future.