Monday, 29 July 2013

Let him be

This is for my father-in-law. He won't read it, which is probably why I feel I can share this here.

 To his Grampa,

Today I was a coward. I watched you with your grandson, my little Monkey, and didn't interfere. He adores you, you know. He has been looking forward to this visit with growing impatience, and is thrilled to be here.

You sat with him while he watched TV. You sat, he did his own thing. He was really enjoying the show, Scooby Doo, I think, and began his usual exuberant run back and forth from his seat, flopping down to watch, jumping up in flapping, hooting excitement, running to the hall, running back to flop down again.

This is what they call in the autism world "stimming". Monkey's stims tend to be vigorous and physical, and a bit noisy. If you had a bouncier couch, he would probably be jumping on it like he does at home.

Every time he did this, you told him to settle down. When he didn't sit quietly to your satisfaction, you changed the channel. You did this, you said, because he was "overstimulated" and perhaps another program would be less so. Each program change was greeted with whimpers and protests from the Monkey, but he liked the next program you chose, so he settled to watch for a few seconds, before resuming his stimming.

Then you changed it again, same reason given. And again. Monkey grew increasingly confused and agitated. When the last kids' program you could find didn't "settle him down" you turned it to the news. Monkey broke down in tears. "Please my shows, Grampa" he pleaded. You said, "No, you are getting too hyper." "Sowwy, not do it again", his usual phrase when he knows an adult is displeased with his behaviour, whether he knows what he did or not.

I bit my tongue and didn't say what I was thinking. What I am writing now.

Let him be. Yes, he is excited. Why is that bad? He is not screaming or breaking things. He isn't slamming his head into the tiles hard enough to bruise. He isn't interfering with your enjoyment. He is being himself, with exuberant, unselfconscious joy. He does NOT need to settle down, relax, be quiet, be still. He needs to run, to laugh, to hoot, to flap and jump. He feels happy with his whole body, and his need to express it in an unusual way is not a problem.

We are working on "appropriate" behaviour. We try to make him understand that sometimes he needs to be quiet so as not to disturb others in their enjoyment of, say, a movie, or a meal in a restaurant. Yes, sometimes he needs to control himself.

But not here. Not when it's just him and his grandpa in the living room, watching a show he chose because he loves it. How can you not see the pleasure and joy in his stims? How can you stomp on the expression of pure excitement? He has plenty of time and places to practice fitting in, being respectful, being calm.

This isn't the time. This isn't the place. Just enjoy the moment. Watch him light up with happiness at watching a show with his grampa.

Just let him be.


  1. Lovely post.

    ...and while we're on appropriate behaviour. There are two adults in this story with inappropriate behaviour.

    One who didn't interfere when it would have helped.
    One who misinterpreted and reacted poorly.

    I know that you're writing it for your dad because you think that he won't read it but YOU need to be an advocate for your "little monkey". Especially now, when he's too young to advocate for himself.

    You need to get the message across to him. Ok, so maybe it's inappropriate for you to call your dad out in front of little monkey but it's something that you need to explain to him on the quiet.

    Well done for recognising the problem though. You're halfway there.

    1. My father-in-law is not an especially reasonable person. I have tried to speak to him, and to my mother-in-law, on how and why Monkey does what he does. It doesn't seem to help, or change anything. So when he is at Grampa's, it is Grampa's rules. What I did after this last time, was take my little boy outside in the backyard, which he loves, and am trying to tell him that the way he is is fine with me. I wish I could change his grandfather's mind. I am a coward, as I said, and would rather avoid the conflict than start an argument. I am not a perfect parent.

    2. Meh...

      Jesus, if I had a nickel for every posting where my errors were laid bare for the world to see and critique...

      There's ALWAYS something you could do better. ALWAYS. I loved the post. I loved the writing and the message...

      There is no doubt in my mind that you run those sorts of scenarios through your head every time you think about writing and wonder..."what could I have done better?" I do.

      I see nothing to criticize here. halfway there indeed...I'm sure Gavin didn't mean that to sound as sanctimonious and condescending as it does.

  2. Thank you, C, for posting this, for sharing your story. I know a lot of us have been here not knowing what to do and feeling helpless in an impossible situation for you, your father in law, and your sweet baby.

  3. True. And also there needs to be a recognition of how hard it is to adapt to "normal stimming" from the non-autistic parts of the family. When I'm around it constantly, it becomes part of my environment and a sort of "white noise" of my life. But when I've had a real long break from it and come back, it is very jarring. I have to readjust. I can only imagine how hard it is on the senses to someone who doesn't have it 24X7. Alot of love and understanding of all involved is needed - always :)

    1. I know it can be difficult. It's just that the willingness to understand just doesn't seem to be there. Grandpa just does things the way he does things. He does not like me. I really don't mind that. I just wish he would let the Monkey be himself. My husband tries now and then, but nothing seems to get through.

  4. Beautifully written. You could have been describing my son here. I wish we were all so open and less self conscious with our emotions like our 2 boys are. And I wish people would appreciate our children more for their pure spirits. My son is 8, and his little sister who is 6, and who does not yet even know what Autism is, looks at her brother when he is stimming like that and says "Mama, he is happy!!" She gets it without even realizing it. :)

    1. Yep, the little people get it...just have to work on the grownups now.

  5. LOVED this post! Thank you for writing it!

  6. This post sounds all to familiar with me.!!!! But with different people involved!! :/

  7. I think you are very brave for trying to make the relationship work between your son and your father in law. My mother has yet to meet my step-kids because I'm sure she will not tolerate their "quirks". Both of my brothers have made the same decision.