Backstory (#427)

It has been a great vacation, this year at the beach house. True, the dent in the kitchen wall, and Charlie screaming for a few hours after midnight on Friday while three friends were spending the night will go down as “what happened at the beach house in 2006.” And so will Charlie’s newfound skills of kicking and paddling on his boogie board and body-surfing and the time he has spent with other kids, especially Kristina, and with four more visitors today, a friend and her three young daughters.
These are the same three girls who came to swim at the pool with Charlie and who gave him a bear named Kevin (yes, the bear is at the beach house, along with his red flip-flops). Today, Charlie swam in the ocean alongside the eldest girl (a graceful swimmer), panicked when we told him not to eat their French fries—-he ran and threw himself on his knees in grassy sand—and swung high and laughing on a swingset with them. “Bye!” he called out the window of the black car as they drove off.

It was a pleasant evening—-as it has been a fine vacation—and not simply because Charlie loves to be here at the ocean. Charlie, I think, has been able to enjoy his vacation because of his school and teachers, and of his home ABA therapists. Fortified with one simple principle, we have been able to move Charlie through the anxious moments that before—-last summer, a few months ago—used to escalate into cyclone tantrums of the sort that “ruin the day.”

When Charlie fell to his knees tonight, Jim got him right back up and onto the swing, where we asked him to “put legs up!” before pushing him. Several times Charlie twisted his body to run back to the picnic table where the three girls had left their dinners half-eaten (including a partially filled paper cone of Charlie’s favorite fried items); he cried, howled one time, stayed on the swing and kicked his legs. He stopped crying, started grinning, finished the fries.

When Charlie fell off his boogie board after a big wave, Jim held the board still so he could climb on.

Last year, after seeing Charlie scream over not getting someone else’s French fries, I would have told our friends “we have to go” and ended the evening in tears and anger at myself—-anger that we could not have kept the head bang in the grass from happening. Last year, Charlie getting a surprise dunk in the ocean after falling off his board would have meant Jim bringing him back to shore and, soon after, back to shower and worry about the next thing.

This year, we have been trying to implement the strategy Charlie’s teacher so succinctly noted: How, when they sense Charlie tensing, they show him his token board (that is, they make clear what the goal of whatever activity he is doing is) and increase their demands on him. Consequently, Charlie has been learning to quell his agitation not by running away from whatever is bothering him, but by refocusing himself on the task on hand and completing it. So, when he has been falling off his boogie board, he has had to get right back on and seek out the next wave to ride, to conquer.

You fall down, you get back up, you try again.

When you leave the beach, your last memory is not being spun plunk under salt water. You are riding—flying—in a wave.

And that’s the backstory to Charlie’s 2006 beach vacation.

7 Responses to “Backstory (#427)”
  1. tara says:

    The memories of the beach house this summer will hopefully sustain you through the cold winter!
    The ABA principles you so often site in your posts are really such simple principles, and yet, I feel like I need a refresher for Littleman. When we are at our wits end, and feeling like we can’t calm the storms in Littleman, ABA helps, every time.
    Maybe it has taken me some time to fully embrace and own the relationship we have with ABA. No more. It works, and I can’t wait to get started again with the behaviorist we like so well.
    Thank you for all your insight Kristina. I hope the homecoming goes well for Charlie and that he doesn’t miss his friends and the ocean too much.

  2. enna id says:

    I love your blog. Thank you for the time you spend blogging. enna_id

  3. One thing I’ve found helpful about using ABA when Charlie is having a difficult moment is that it helps me to just see what is going on, what Charlie is doing, and to not think about my emotions for a moment. I feel very aware of all the possible reasons for the tantrum happening and of Charlie’s own feelings (or of what they might be), but he has been moving more quickly out of his “behavior storms” with us focusing on increasing requests on him, rather than saying “we should just let him be.” It may not work for every child but we have definitely had a vacation of short squalls (except for that Friday night special….)

  4. MommyGuilt says:

    Isn’t it amazing the difference a year can make? I’m applauding and beaming with pride at Charlie’s huge strides! I’m so so proud, I can imagine how you feel – as well as how relieved you must feel.

    I’ve found that the most difficult part of increasing the demands when SmallBoy is tensing, is that I’m worried that I’m going to do something wrong to set him off even farther. Once I get past that and realize that I’m doing exactly what I should, things seem to smooth out.

    Glad you guys had a great trip. Stop on by. I’m writing about our quick weekend jaunt to our paradise.

  5. Wow! I am so happy for you and all the growth you have seen in Charlie. You are so patient and giving. I wish we could afford ABA. We do start with a behavior psychologist in a couple weeks, and we are hoping she is trained in ABA (our insurance is covering her on the mental health portion for 30 visits). We have lots of house guests off and on over the next month and have similar situations with Sam, and we need some new tricks in the bag as things have been escalating. Your blog always reminds me and focusses me on what’s important when I get frustrated. And I really like what you said about “taking the emotion out of it”. That is so true. I need to practice that more 😉 Smiles to you and happy trails at home.

  6. I’ve tried to focus more on what we do _before_ Charlie has an outburst than on my reaction—-it has taken me a long time to figure out what might be setting him off. When we had our guests, Jim and I made sure one of us was always “on” Charlie so he would not feel left out.

    Have you read _A Work in Progress_? It’s very clear and straightforward in its presentation of ABA and, too, in its mention of how to handle “difficult” situations—tantrums etc.. I’d send you mine but have already passed it on!

  7. I will check my library for that book and then hit Amazon. Love any resource I can get my hands!!! Thanks.

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