FatherSon Ventures

Building a Relationship through Adventure

Dixieland Concert

Written By: Scot Butwell - Sep• 04•12

It’s a Sunday, and I suggest a family picnic to L. Manhatten Beach, a neighboring city, hosts a summer concert series, so it will be a picnic on a blanket and Dixieland jazz music circa the Roaring 1920’s.

Technically, going together as a family, this will not be a true father-son adventure. But, after we find a spot for our blanket on the hill, and D eats meat sticks and yogurt, we both take off running for the playground.

He runs straight to a twisting, fifteen-foot high, enclosed tube slide. It looks guaranteed to create a dopamine high–for rat or human–especially after sliding down several times, as I notice a dozen kids are repeatedly doing.

D goes down the slide three or four times before peering into the gaping hole at the bottom, greeting each new kid as they emerge. He’s laughing at the silliest things, so much has the adrenaline buzz taken over him.

A girl lets loose a high-pitched squeal and the effect of the slide, fellowship with other kids, warm sunshine, cool breeze and the shrill squeal produces an effervescent happiness in D, and I am happy to see him so happy.

It’s right at this moment my phone rings. L is calling to tell me the concert is starting, and I have a problem. The question is, “How do I interrupt D’s fun and get him back to the blanket?”

My previous experience tells me this will not be easy, and I am met with pinches and scratches. D has difficulty with transitions, and this is his mode of communication when he’s upset.

The multiple scratch marks on both my arms reveal his struggle with transitions. “Let’s go see the tuba,” I say, knowing how much he likes tubas from the Veggie Tales theme song.

This is the one strategy I’ve learned through parent training in his ABA therapy to help him deal with transitions: Present a positive reinforcer to gradually ease him towards a compliant behavior.

And it works. The mention of the tuba calms him down, and we reach the blanket, but then after one song, L tells me she wants to leave. Suddenly, I understand, the reason for D’s difficulty with transitions: anger.

One moment the Dixie music had transported me to a park in America’s heartland, of families spread out on blankets, young girls running barefoot in summer dresses, and boys lazily tossing a football back and forth.

The next moment, my reverie was broken by L declaring she wanted to leave as the whimsical Dixie music wafted up the hill to our blanket where D was laying with his head on my hip.

But I now understand why it is so important to “prime” D before a transition from a “preferred” activity to a less desired one. This is what I needed–some priming–to not get so angry when L wanted to go home.

Yes, I was angry for a full 20 minutes.

However, I am grateful for this glimpse into my son’s world of emotions and plan to add priming to my bag of parenting tricks to help him learn to make smooth transitions.

I realized too that D has a right to express his emotions whenever he is upset, and while I want to help him with transitions, I need to let him to vent his feelings when he is angry.

***

“Emotional incontinance,” Rupert Isaacson called his son’s tantrums in his memoir “The Horse Boy” about his family’s journey across Mongolia on horseback to meet shamans to exorcise his autistic son of these neurological firestorms as he called the tantrums.

When his five-year-old son, Rowan, started to press his chin into his head deep into their horseback journey, Rupert said to his son as he had on hundreds of previous occasions, “You know, Rowan, the chin on my head is ouchy. But a hand would be nice.”

And it worked. He rested his hand on top of his dad’s head. Just as priming works with D because it addresses the underlying root issue in his difficulty with transitions: his frustration.

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