My son is five and he can be quite violent. I’ve been trying to figure out ways to prolong the escalation of his violent behavior and stumbled across something by accident. We were in a crowded room one day waiting in line and I was given a number for our place in line. My son was terrified by the amount of people in the room and their close proximity and most likely the noise they produced as well. He buried his face in my stomach and would not allow me to take off his heavy winter jacket or hat as they provided a barrier between him and the other people in the room. I know numbers are a calming technique/coping skill for him, so I thought in that moment maybe just seeing a number would help. He was immediately calmed by just looking at the number. You see, my son will spend hours writing random or not so random numbers on index cards or any other item he can write on. The picture above is just one example. My son also LOVES to count. He can count to 200 by 1’s, 5’s, and 10’s and quite often runs around the house counting to himself regardless of what else he is doing. Taking things a step further, I asked him, “Do you want to hold the number?” and he whispered “Yes.” He held on to this small, square piece of paper, turned it over and over in his tiny hands, and after a few minutes I was able to coax him out of his jacket. Holding the number in his hand also gave him the strength and courage to stand just a little bit away from me until our number was called. I mentioned this love of numbers to his therapist on Thursday and he suggested that next time my son was agitated I should ask him to count things.
Today is a Saturday which is a very difficult day for my son because he is out of school and it means a change in his schedule. He woke at 4:30 AM which is typical for him. By 6:30 he was already agitated and beginning down the all too familiar path of violence. Instead of getting overly involved in his behavior by trying to reason with him or becoming agitated myself, I took a few moments to breathe in 10 counts, hold for 10 counts, and breathe out for 10 counts and did this 10 times. Then it came to me: Ask him to count! So, I said, “Count how many calendars are in this room,” and he stopped what he was doing and counted the calendars! (For those wondering, we have eight calendars in the living room alone. He loves calendars too.) By the time he was done counting he had calmed down.
I have tried this practice several times throughout the day and it has worked. Now, I had to be quite creative and it takes a moment to remove myself from the situation and allow the creativity to take over. Here are a few examples of other things I did today: In order to go to McDonald’s to get coffee this morning (he hates getting in the car and going anywhere and if I force him to go it usually ends in disaster), I asked him if he would count the street lights we passed on the way to and from McDonald’s. He also added in counting the stop signs and I easily got him in the car and got my coffee! In another moment of agitation I asked him to count the number of markers on the floor and then took it further by asking him what colors they were too.
If you have a child with Asperger’s like mine, or one you want to distract in order to lure them out of agitation and a possible blow-up, look for things they can count OR incorporate other things they love such as spelling, drawing, coloring, or naming colors. Another thing his therapist suggested was adding a sensory aspect to this by putting different objects into a brown paper bag and asking him to pull each object out while counting them.
I know this isn’t easy. It’s much easier to get caught up in the moment or as I do, the “Oh God, not this again,” mentality, but if you can take a moment to breathe, a creative way to overcome the immediate situation just might come to you. It might not work every time, but if it works even a small portion of the time you can have some peace to your day and you and your child will feel better. We have made it nearly an entire day without violence and for us that is a miracle! If you do decide to try this, leave me a comment and let me know how it works for you. I encourage you to keep trying if it doesn’t work the first time because you just never know. Here’s to a peace filled weekend for all of us mothering under special circumstances!