Today Jake refused to put his pants on. I wasn’t sure why, but know sometimes he needs a little extra time before he’s ready to get dressed I didn’t push it. When his dad asked him again to put on the sweatpants I had brought downstairs for him, he teetered on an explosive episode. He sat at the kitchen table growling and barking “OH!”, clearly feeling furious. I know better than to go near him when he is in that mood, so we waited until after he calmed down to do our work session.
To start the session I asked the usual question if he wanted to decide what we did that day or wanted me to give him choices. He pointed to the “m” for “mom” to give choices. So out of the 3 options I gave him, Jake chose “casual conversation.” I asked, “OK, what would you like to talk about today?” and Jake started us off:
Jake: Too mad about not wanting to wear light grey pants.
Mom(Tara/Me): I’m happy to know that’s the issue – so it’s because the new pants are light grey you don’t want to wear them?
Jake: Most like to wear black pants or at least good amount of darkness.
Mom: OK, so that’s your personal preference – black or dark colored pants. There’s nothing wrong with that! Lots of people like what they like for lots of different reasons. I think the anger might be more from your challenge with being able to express your preference. What do you think? Because you just said “no” to the pants but didn’t elaborate as to why…..
Jake: Not sure I not mad about having good rigidness towards only wanting to wear dark pants.
Mom: You know what, I understand how you might feel mad at yourself about that, but something like pant color is not as necessary to be flexible about as things we don’t have control over. So it’s OK to want to control the little, fun things in life we can control like the color of your pants.
Jake: Having madness about something so stupid is not what I want.
Mom: You’re so smart, you’re right. It’s not necessary. So what could you do instead of getting mad? Any ideas?
Jake: Maybe only have black pants. Still I don’t want to have good madness.
Mom: Well that’s the communication part. You have all these thoughts and feelings inside, and your dad and I don’t always automatically know stuff. We can’t read your mind. So you’re getting mad at yourself for not wanting the grey pants – what’s another way you could feel when someone offers you something you don’t want? Like say I offer you a piece of broccoli, and you don’t want it. That happens all the time, but you don’t get mad about not wanting it.
Jake: Only stupid to get mad.
Mom: Well it doesn’t help. You’re right about that. It also doesn’t help to get mad at yourself about getting mad. So we usually get mad to feel more powerful or to assert our power, but it’s not a loving method of asserting power. So would you rather have the power to make yourself wear the grey pants? Or the power to say, “I want black pants?” And actually you can be flexible with yourself day to day on stuff like this. Like one day, “you know, today I feel like trying the grey pants.” Yet another day, maybe not.
Jake: I have most trouble having love myself having such stupid madness about something so stupid my pants. God not really care my pants color. I have interest having more control my madness than my pants.
Mom: That makes sense. So why did you get mad at yourself for not wanting to wear the grey ones? Let’s look at it from an outside perspective – so you saw me today go into my closet and pick out these brown pants. I have pants of every color. I didn’t feel like wearing the blue pants or green pants today…I felt like wearing the brown pants No one got mad about it, so why are you mad at yourself for not feeling like wearing the grey pants today?
Jake: So stupid to not want to wear them.
Mom: Did you think it was stupid of me to not want to wear the blue pants today?
Jake: Most not have madness my life.
Mom: You’re right, but you’re working through your issues because you don’t want to have madness in your life either. So why get mad at yourself for having a pant color preference today?
Jake: I guess I don’t make good decisions having autism.
Mom: You sound like a normal human to me. You’re making a decision to let go of some useless, harmful anger and learning to respond to your life in a more loving, accepting way.
Jake: Stronger when I am not so mad. God helping me more at having good life attitude. Easier most of the time now, today I deal not so great.
Mom: Hey, remember we gotta encourage ourselves with love. You initiated this conversation, you looked at your feelings and took responsibility – so you slipped back into an angry response, but you are at a new place in your life now, and you’re going to love that madness away for good with God’s help. I believe that. You are using your strong focus for a good purpose!
Jake: Nice to not make myself so mad about something so stupid. Next time I start having mad thoughts have to have God help me stay most interested in loving myself.
At the age of 22 he began expressing his very personal thoughts and feelings more fluently with me (his mom), and it was his idea to begin writing “The Story of My Life” one day. He is diagnosed with severe autism as well as intermittent explosive disorder. He has given me permission to share his story and our conversations.
Jake continually expresses his desire to “find purpose” to his life…I hope his willingness to share will help others learn about this misunderstood condition known as “autism” that has so much to teach us all.