Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Water Rights

So, John loves baths. He runs all the hot water in the entire house into a bath and has no qualms about not stopping when the water reaches the level of the overflow hole. He fills it to the brim with the hottest water possible and sinks down until only his nose and eyes remain above the water. He loves to soak for long periods of time that way. (Don't ask him to use soap or shampoo. That's another post entirely.) Then he likes to air dry for about twenty minutes.

Therefore, he's only allowed to have baths on Saturday morning. The rest of the week, the water is needed for additional people and he has a schedule to adhere to. The rule is that he is to set his watch timer for ten minutes and then get out and get on with his day.

On weekdays, my Mother-in-law who lives in an apartment downstairs, helps get the kids up and gives them breakfast. It's a great setup. I get to exercise and she gets out of a monthly bill we pay in her stead. It's cheaper than a gym membership and of more benefit to me. She was out of town for a week and my niece was visiting so we've been off schedule. John was sleeping in and getting baths more frequently.

This morning, she woke John up and ten minutes later went to knock on the bathroom door only to discover he had run a bath for the last ten minutes. She reminded him it was a shower day. It was obvious he had made a legitimate mistake. She said, "Okay, well, it's time to go ahead and get out so you can get everything else done."

That's where things started to go south. He understood he had messed up. But the rule, according to him, is that he gets a 10 minute shower. Since he had run this magnificent bath, he was entitled to soak for 10 minutes. So he curtly told her, under no uncertain terms, he was not getting out until his timer went off.

I was still around instead of exercising because I had sensed a disturbance in the force. This was one of those sticky situations that if it wasn't handled in a certain way would color the rest of our day. I consulted with Theo and started to write out the situation for John. Writing is easier for him to accept than my voice usually.

But I realized the issue was too convoluted for written word at that moment. I had already decided he would have to pay the ten minutes back in some way. In my conversation with Theo he mentioned we should also deal with defiance. I was disturbed by the word and a small argument ensued.

My issue was that while, yes, he deliberately disobeyed his grandmother, he wasn't doing it to be defiant. I know that sentence makes no sense. It certainly didn't to Theo. The deal is, yes, the action was defiant, but John, when I try to explain the situation to him and garner a more respectful attitude is never going to agree that he was defiant.

He wasn't disobeying his grandmother intentionally, he was operating under a set of rules that in his mind were set in stone, albeit to his own advantage. He doesn't quite so rigidly obey rules that don't suit him, of course. In John's world, the word he would understand based on previous interactions, was inflexible. He wouldn't buy that he was being defiant, but I was sure I could logically argue that he was being inflexible. I realize now that I had been speaking Aspergers to my husband and I should have been speaking neuro-typical.

Sure enough, when I found John air drying and lounging in his room with his towel thankfully wrapped about his waist, he was confused by all the hullabaloo surrounding his actions. I had had time to calm down before I went in his room. I explained first of all that the reason behind the rule was not only that he used too much hot water but that he also wasn't able to complete his morning routine on time seeing as how he was supposed to be sitting down at breakfast at 7:30. We both noted he was sitting in a towel, undressed at 7:36. He was nowhere near finished with his routine.

For the first time since this started, his expression switched from one of bewildered self-righteousness to a little sheepish. "Oh, yeah, I forgot that part. Good point."

I had him firmly in my parental grasp. Speaking Aspergers is so much more rewarding than screaming, insisting and getting angry. That usually results in the opposite of what I want to happen.

I decided to steal another base.

"When you used up your ten minutes running the bath, you used more hot water than ten minutes in the shower. Your father's shower right now is a little cool."

*More generalized sheepishness*

"You were also rude to your grandmother. She was trying to help you stay on your routine. When she pointed out what you did wrong, you should have listened to her instructions in order to make it right even though it was a horrible shame to lose the wonderful bathwater you just ran. This is one of those times where..."

He joined in with the familiar phrase, "I should have been flexible."


I explained that he would have to take his banana and eat it while he read in order to be done with reading at 8:30. He understood it was necessary and not unreasonable to get back on schedule. I also told him he would have to pay back the ten minutes in some way. He completed the rest of his routine quickly and politely.

I went to get a shower. I was wracking my brain trying to decide how to have him pay it back. I mean, I've learned that instituting consequences don't influence his behavior in the future but I felt like he'd inconvenienced people and I shouldn't let it go. Mid-shampoo, a word drifted through my mind: retribution.

That was it. About a month ago, we introduced John to the concept. It's not a consequence so much as a tool to make it up to the person you have wronged. In our family, we all subconsciously attempt to make retribution when we mess up. We've explained it to John as taking just a few minutes to repair the relationship with a person you've wronged. It backs up your verbal apology with an action apology.

I decided that he probably owed several of us retribution this morning but the person who deserved it most was his grandmother. I suggested the ten minutes belonged to her when I had them both in the room. They were both on board.

John said, "Oh yeah, this is like doing charity work."

I hesitated, "Ummmm, no... more like..."

John's mental lightbulb was nearly visible, "Oh, it's more like when you are a drunk driver and you can either go to jail to be punished or pay back the community by wearing one of those vests and cleaning up litter!"

Ok. Yes, I think that works. He was excited and walked over to his grandmother and offered a heart-felt apology which she accepted. We decided she didn't have ten minutes of work available for him right now but she had a few minor less-than-a-minute jobs he could do over the next several days. So we are keeping an index card with ten x's on it. He can circle an x when he's carried her trash or recycling out or helped put away her groceries.

Relationship restored. And maybe the flexibility has been ever so slightly increased?

Word of the day: Retribution. Consequences that serve a purpose other than getting back at the disobedient child but aren't necessarily aimed at preventing the future behavior. All that time explaining and coming to an understanding is what does that.

1 comment:

  1. That's an awesome post. Thanks for sharing!!