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Doggie Boot Camp, Day 5. Chagrin.

May 11, 2013

Today was one of those hand-to-forehead slappers, where you just can’t quite make sense of much.  Alex had a surprisingly different day today.  And I am not sure why, precisely.  As I mentioned to another parent this morning as we were remarking about our kids, what I don’t know about autism could fill a warehouse.  Color me chagrined.

So, here’s how the day went.  Alex slept well–again.  For him, day 6 of sleeping on the floor of the closet with nothing but three or four soft, fuzzy blankets beneath him all lumpy and uneven.  Go figure.  When we went to load up the car, I steeled myself for his displeased response.  And, as expected, the pouty lip and whining started…followed almost immediately by the self-injury–fists smacking his head.  When I attempted to block them he resorted to banging the back of his head into the wall.  I put his helmet on him.  More whining, crying and attempts to strike himself.  Of course he won’t be able to hit his head, but his hands certainly will hurt…

So far, this is what I expected of the day.  We head over to the training center.  By the time we get there (it’s about a 15 minute drive), Alex is reasonably calm.  We park…Kat takes Drew and Merrows into the building and I focus my attention on removing Alex’s helmet.  He protests by trying to push my hands away from the straps that hold it to his head.  Strange, but not entirely uncommon for him to not want his helmet removed…

A little bit about Alex’s helmet protocol: as per his head ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis) therapist, we are not to leave Alex’s helmet on his head after his bout of self-injury appears to have subsided.  Why?  Because he will get used to this.  And by that, the theory is, he will get used to feeling secure (safer?) with it on–he will begin depending on the helmet to be worn.  Want your kid wearing an ugly medical helmet out in public for the rest of his childhood?  Crap, just give him a neon sign that says “I AM WAY DIFFERENT–LOOK AT ME” and see how that works out for you.  He is different, yes, but that’s not the point.

But then I thought about it.  Given his marked negative reaction to so many changes in his life the past week–where he sleeps, eats, plays, who he interacts with–perhaps all of this just overloads him.  And perhaps the feeling of constant pressure on his head via the helmet calms him down some.  So I acquiesced and left the helmet on him.  We trotted inside, Alex distinctly more calm.

We would only be at the training center for about 15 minutes before we were scheduled to depart for our daily tracking exercise.  Kat handed me Merrows’ leash with the hope that I would use this time to work one-on-one with one of the trainers there.  Remember, I was grousing about not really being very hands-on with Merrows.  Kat and I discussed this.  But, to Kat’s credit, she said she would take care of Alex while I tried to catch up.  Merrows again demonstrated her faithful willingness to adapt to me.  I practiced walking with her, otherwise known as ‘heeling’.  I practiced ‘under’, a command used to get her to sit beneath a table or desk, essentially out-of-the-way of foot traffic.  I practices ‘jump’ and ‘off’, used to get her to leap onto anything elevated and off again.  Other than ‘jump’, Merrows did well.  She still needs a little more prompting to jump into the back of our car, a station wagon with a relatively high rear perch–lower than an SUV, but not as low as a minivan.  Our trainers said she will eventually adapt to this.  So…my review with her went well.

And then I looked over at Kat and Alex.  There he was, still in his helmet, reasonably content to poking at his iPad.  No whining, no fussing.  I was surprised.  He had been sitting on her lap for over 15 minutes.  This was a good thing.

We all reloaded the car and headed off to a local park to do the tracking thing again.  Still Alex kept his helmet on.  No complaining.  He wore it as he walked with Kat to “hide” while Jessa, one of the trainers, and I corralled Merrows so she wouldn’t know where Alex had gone.  By now we had put Merrows in his tracking harness, a web of straps that allow the dog to lead with substantial force (think being pulled vigorously) without causing any discomfort to her.  And when Alex was out of sight, Jess commanded her, in an excited voice, to go find him.  It is amazing to see a trained dog in the midst of tracking.  Merrows would walk left, then right, then back left again, nose down to catch Alex’s scent.  I would keep positive control of her retractable collar, braced against my chest, with just enough slack to let her figure out which way to go.  Once she locked on to Alex’s scent, away we all ran.  Across the grass at least 300 yards and over a small hill and, ta-dah!  Vigorous, excited praise for her.  And Alex, too, for being so calm.  He was still wearing his helmet.

After walking back to where the cars were parked, I headed off with Alex to a playground I spotted earlier.  Now quite smily, I was able to slip his helmet off.  He climbed up the steps to the slide, looked around, climbed back down and did pretty much like any kid would do at a playground–he enjoyed himself.

Eventually we walked back to the car, then headed back to the training center.  We gave Alex a snack and something to drink.  Alex was content to poke at his iPad or walk around calmly.  We broke for lunch.  Alex was fine in the car.

This afternoon would be something new for us.  Everyone in class was to meet at a popular local mall to practice our basic dog control.  It wasn’t required that we bring the kids with, but most of the families did.  After all, it’s pretty easy to keep kids occupied at a mall.  We arrived and met near one of those enclosed play areas where kids can climb upon soft shapes and scamper about without shoes.  Drew and Alex both dug this, as you’d expect.  And the dogs all sat patiently, waiting for whatever we wished them to do next.

The sight of 11 dogs wearing their special harness all sitting together attracted plenty of attention.  Many passersby would stop and engage us.  Compliments, why were we there and could they pet the dog were typical quotes.  Jeremy, the head trainer, cautioned us to expect the attention.  He also warned us to toilet our dog before we went inside, and to make sure we had an “emergency clean-up kit” available in case the dog chooses to use the tiled floor of a local merchant as their bathroom.  Good thing, too, because Merrows wasn’t particularly interested in taking a dump in the pouring rain, as was the case this afternoon.  And so, as I practiced ‘heel’ with Merrows, I paused to allow her to sit and enjoy the attention of a cute little two-year old girl.  Before she would entertain such a notion, Merrows proceeded to hunch back and plop a turd right where we stopped, in the middle of the mall.  The little girl was still enthralled but her mom hurried her away while Kat used our emergency clean up kit.  Don’t leave home without it.

It was fun at the mall.  We put Alex in one of those strollers available for rent and pushed him around to his great delight.  We all sauntered through a pet store, a great test for Merrows, making sure she would mind her manners in such a tempting environment.  Merrows did great.  The funniest thing we saw was Alex picking up a rawhide bone and attempting to chew it–not Merrows.

Drew was a trooper, accompanying us in all directions.  Returning the favor, we plied him with a chocolate chip cookie and some gum balls procured with a few quarters from me.  Jessa again gave me some pointers with Merrows.  She sensed correctly that Merrows was trying to see how far ahead I would let him walk before I corrected his heel.  I learned that Merrows needs a short, sharp pull to his training collar with a simultaneous “no” to get the point.  Dutifully, Merrows complied.  And Alex, all through the visit, was placid.  No whining, no self-injury, no helmet needed.  Eventually we all headed back to our hotels, class dismissed.  Success.

So what was it?  Just a strategic use of the helmet for a while this morning to “recalibrate” Alex?  Is he getting used to the routine?  Feeling better about something?  Dunno.  We’ll see tomorrow.  Same Bat time, same Bat channel.  Stay tuned.

From → Alex, Autism, Family Stuff

  1. Nina Lowe permalink

    Dave and Kathy,
    I am constantly amazed at your attitude with your dear boys. You are honest (tired beyond tired, frustrated at times, confused at times) which helps to paint the true picture for those of us not able to be involved day-to-day. We deal with ADHD here and it feels like trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle without the picture to help us. Autism seems like trying to put a puzzle together without the picture, too many pieces or perhaps too few, perhaps the wrong puzzle pieces altogether mixed up with the right ones. Please know that we love your family. We are so happy for you that Merrows is becoming another family member! You are a wonderful example of parents that are willing to do anything for their kids. Keep the blog posts coming! We admire you both more than you know.

  2. Dave, thank you or writing these updates on your family and this experience in Ohio. It is helping us within his classroom know how it is going, and so, we will not have to ask you guys a million questions about how it went. I am glad it was a better day for all of you. It is so great that Alex got to go to the mall. He loves going to the mall on C.B.I. I think it is one of his favorite trips. Give him a big hug for me and tell him Miss Megan misses him!

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