by Laura Sylvester
For the last couple of months, Elliot has been doing his repetitive yelling of scripts. His favorites are: “No on,” “no watch you hah,” “no blue ribbons,” “no green,” etc. We have tried many avenues to redirect him – we have tried to help, to explain, to ignore, and to acknowledge. You name it we’ve tried it. So far, nothing seems to help. He just continues to repeat the scripts in a very loud stressful tone. Our weekend would revolve around this yelling - a combination of retreat, re-entry, and experimenting with different methods to try to control the yelling. When Sunday afternoon arrived, the best lesson employed would come from the newest member of our pack, Orbit the dog.
Friday evening, Rick was sensing my fragile state and sent me away for the night. My dear friend Amy treated me to a pedicure and a great Thai/Sushi dinner -- we talked and talked. Later when I cried myself to sleep that night, I knew this was serious. A girl’s night out usually fixes all that ails me, but this time it was not enough to dissolve my despair.
On Saturday morning the first occurrence of a repetitive yelling script sent me to the kitchen floor huddled in a ball of tears. Once again sensing my state, Rick calmly explained to Elliot that today was the day he was going to learn to stop yelling. Rick then calmly approached me and told me that when I could, Elliot could use his Mom. So, I pulled myself together and sat with Elliot on the couch. We cuddled and I explained to him why it was important that we didn’t yell at each other; that Mom and Dad had decided to set a boundary that yelling is not okay. So for the rest of the day whenever Elliot yelled, we told him to stop. At first it was working. Rick and I were encouraged. If Elliot got so loud that he couldn’t hear us tell him to stop, we would yell at him to stop and he would. (I know, not the best approach, but we were getting desperate.)
By mid-day the effectiveness was fading and I was in need of another break. I went upstairs for a bath and attempted meditation. After my bath I was feeling better, so I headed for the stairs to re-engage. When I got to the top of the stairs, I was hit by a wall of yelling so loud and piercing that I froze in place. All the relaxation rushed out of my body like a super powered vacuum had been attached to my soul. I teared up and turned back to the sanctuary of our bedroom for a nap. 2 hours later I awoke and returned to my family. The yelling had still not subsided, but I was able to handle it this time. Not all that gracefully but at least I was present.
As I lay in bed Saturday night racking my brain for an answer, an email we got from Tim and Elise entered my mind. I had emailed Tim and Elsie asking what to do because Orbit had been seriously frightened when Elliot slammed a door. It seemed to paralyze Orbit. He would not leave Rick’s side. Even when Rick removed him from the scene and took him outside, Orbit would not even play ball. He just lay frozen on the grass. (I also mentioned the yelling in my email, as it might have added to Orbit’s anxious state.) Tim and Elise’s reply had detailed instructions of how we could train/condition Orbit to think it was fun anytime Elliot slammed a door or yelled. Instead of acting startled and scared and reacting negatively, turn it into something positive. I wondered if a similar approach could work with the Elliot’s yelling and us.
So, today we have started to react to Elliot’s yelling with joy, celebration, song and dance. If he says or yells “no watch you hah,” I laugh and say, “Did you say, no eat your knee?” Then I pretend to eat his knee. Orbit gets all excited and wags his tail and Elliot is smiling and laughing at our silly antics. So far it has not lessened the amount of yelling but the atmosphere in the house is sure different.
Upon reflection, two things strike me:
1. I seem to have recurring opportunities to learn this very wise lesson: Never get into a stand off with an autistic child. It is the ultimate no win situation.
And 2. Amazement at how the lessons we are learning about training our new mellow yellow dog can be applied to help our whole family.