Sunday, April 25, 2010

Testing, 1, 2, 3...

Kurt has been tested several times lately regarding his stealing. I've discovered it is about impulse control. He wants something, so he takes it. He knows right from wrong, but he impulsively swipes the object of his desire anyway.

Things started clicking for me when I talked to our behavioral consultant. "Kurt needs to control his impulses so that he doesn't do risky behavior," he said. "I worry that he'll do something that puts him in danger."

So this is about more than stealing. This is about giving Kurt the opportunity to practice making the right choices, practice in becoming competent as an adult. It struck me that I had already done this with Keith, and I'm in the middle of it with Kelly, our 17-year-old high school senior. Teens are by nature impulsive.

Searching for "impulse control" and "teens" on the internet brought 79,000 hits. When I added "epilepsy" to the search, 344,000 links came back. Impulse control is regulated by the brain, from what I've read, and someone with epilepsy is at a higher risk of having problems controlling their impulses.

On Saturday, Kurt saw a pile of pictures I had gathered of his brother Kelly. "May I look at these?" he said.

"Sure." I was already impressed that he asked first. In the past, I would not have left them sitting out because Kurt would have been too tempted to take them. "But don't take them. I need them for Kelly's graduation party."

As we sat in the kitchen together, Kurt remarked over several of the pictures. "I wish I had this one," he said. Kelly was three-years-old, dressed as a fireman for Halloween. "I would put it in a frame in my room."

"I have to make copies. Would you like me to make you a copy?"

"Uh-huh," he said.

I was pleased with our conversation and the fact Kurt was willing to wait for something he wanted. Later, I found him downstairs with one of the pictures. "Did you take that?" I asked. "Remember? You weren't supposed to take any."

"I did take it," he said and handed it back.

This was practice, and admittedly, Kurt took a picture. But now I have some perspective. Keith made mistakes. Kelly makes mistakes. And they don't have epilepsy. It's going to take a lot of practice.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Been There, Done That

We were nearly through our game when a mom and her special needs son arrived. "I think we are supposed to bowl on this lane," she said to me. Her son was tall and husky, much bigger than her and she kept control by lovingly holding both hands in hers. I recognized that move, having done similar with Kurt in the past.

So Sue and Nate joined us. We were bowling at the BRIDGE for Youth with Disabilities bowl-a-rama. The 16 lanes were full and loud music was playing over the crash of pins; general chaos all around.

Our team, like all the others, had a special BRIDGE bowler(Kurt was ours), three bowlers who had collected donations in the few weeks before this event(me, my mom, and friend Leann's son Shane), and University of Wisconsin - River Falls students who were mentors to the special bowlers. Our team had three students; Miranda was helping Kurt and the other two students, tall basketball players, didn't have any bowler assigned to them.

"Your turn to bowl Nate," I said.

Nate had a faint smile as he looked at me with his brown eyes. His mom followed closely as Nate picked up an orange ball, approached the lane and dropped it like a hot potato. It slowly rolled its way down as we all held our breath, hoping the ball wouldn't stop short. Finally, a few pins were gently toppled.

"Wade," I said to one of our students. "Would you help him so his mom doesn't have to?

He jumped up and took over. I remembered the relief I felt when students helped Kurt last year, our first time at this event. Kurt knew how to bowl, but needed to be told when it was his turn and having a student tell him was much easier for Kurt to take than having his mom do it. Besides, the students celebrated with him, offering high fives when he knocked down pins.

I could see Nate was a handful. He tended to wander in front of the other bowlers, and Wade began holding his hand to keep him in place. When Nate sat down, he would stretch his feet out and gently tap his shoes on mine, in some kind of secret connection I didn't object to.

Sue had a fervent look and attended to Nate's every need, on guard and ready for anything. I knew that look. I've worn it myself. When Kurt was on heavy doses of anti-seizure medications and having multiple daily seizures, his behavior was unpredictable. The noise in here alone may have had him bolting for the door. Or hiding out in the bathroom. Or he might have thrown a ball at someone or knocked everyone's drinks off the table. Being in public with Kurt required superhuman strength and I would be exhausted when we got home. As Kurt's behavior has improved, and because of the welcoming atmosphere of BRIDGE, I've learned to relax.

"So do you live in Hudson?" I asked Sue.

"Yes," she said. "Are you a volunteer?"

"No, that's my son," I pointed to Kurt. She glanced at Kurt as he prepared to bowl and looked back at me with new eyes. I hoped that she felt a little less alone. I know that BRIDGE helps me feel a part of the community.

As I reflect on the day's events, I can't help but think of Sue and all the parents who are dedicated to their special needs children. And all the caregivers and foster parents who choose to take this 24x7 job.

I know you do it out of love. You are amazing!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Waiting for the Right Moment

Two weeks ago, the youth officer came to our house and talked with Kurt about stealing. It was an effort on our part to curb this behavior. And since then, I've waited and watched for any signs that Kurt listened. Or if he didn't listen, I wanted to catch it and remind him of the officer's words and his pact to stop taking other people's things.

One day last week, I had miscellaneous papers and a few of my business cards sitting on the kitchen table. I walked into the room and found Kurt looking at my mess.

"What Kurt?" I had come across one of those moments I had been watching for. In the past, a piece of colorful mail on the kitchen counter or a pen lying about would disappear. I wouldn't know it was missing until it turned up later in his room. "What are you looking at?"

"Can I have one of your cards?" he said.

I handed him one and while he paused to look it over, I had a moment to think. He doesn't like to be praised so I needed to phrase my words carefully.

"I appreciate that you asked for it," I said, with little emotion showing to make it low key, although inside I was thrilled.

"Why should I ask before I take?" Kurt said.


He got the message!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

I Called the Cops

I had to detach, realize Kurt's stealing was his issue and not mine, and believe that protecting him may mean letting go so he could learn his own lessons. His behavior hadn't gotten any better, and in fact was really becoming alarming. He had tried to steal the iPod at Worie's Place, after the long talk we had about stealing.

Last week, I called the police department and arranged for the youth officer to stop by our home for a visit. When Officer Golden arrived, Kurt came into the living room, with wide eyes and grinning. Policemen are one of Kurt's curiosities. They sat on the green couch on opposite ends, while I sat nearby.

"Do you know what stealing means?" Officer Golden said.

After an uncomfortably long since, Kurt said, "Taking other people's things?"

They went over much of what Paul and I have discussed with him: it's wrong, people won't trust you, and your friends won't want to hang around with you. Plus, the officer emphasized it being illegal.

"Before you take something," the officer said, "will you ask first?"

Another long pause before Kurt shook his head and quietly said, "Yes."

"Good. Let's shake on that," the officer reached out and the two shook hands.

A few days later Kurt came in from the garage. "Mom, come see," he motioned for me to follow. "Look," he pointed at his golf cart.

I immediately noticed the change. He had taken the Wisconsin Badgers license plate off and replaced it with the Luther Chevrolet plate from Paul's workbench. It was the plastic plate on my car when we purchased it.

"Did dad say you could take that?" I said. It's worthless, but the point was he shouldn't take things that don't belong to him. "Come on. Let's go ask dad."

"I'm not in trouble, am I?" He blinked and his eyes went wide. "I didn't like the "W" on the other one."

The Badgers plate had a large red "W" and I was struck by the fact he knew the letter. He doesn't read, so any recognition of the alphabet gives me pause. I don't know what Kurt knows. He reveals some knowledge, at moments like this, in passing. During the years when I tried to teach him the alphabet, he wouldn't have said "W" for a million bucks.

Back to the subject at hand, I was calm. There was no alarm in my voice. There was no feeling that I owned his behavior. I was fully detached. We weren't reacting emotionally.

"Remember? The police officer said to ask first before you take something," I said.

We found Paul in the bedroom. "Go ahead, ask him."

"Can I have the red license for my golf cart?" Kurt said.

Paul shrugged. "I don't care."

"See, you just have to ask first," I said.

I don't know if we've made any progress. Kurt's behavior hadn't changed, he still took something without asking, but my reaction had. Maybe, with a little more calm on my part, we can have these teachable moments. And with some reinforcement, we can get the "ask" before the "take."

Kurt at 19