Redirecting Compulsive Behavior: Our Master Plan

Summer Curses

Tourette’s season is here.

The hottest, heaviest weeks of the year amplify tics to unprecedented levels. Clouds of stupids, shut ups, and other unmentionables thicken the air.

Such is the pressure to expel offending words, my son must do more than speak them: he must type them, scrawl them, and even print them out on our label-maker.

We are cool with this.

Tics are neurological. Time-outs, scolding, and other intuitive interventions not only don’t work, they actually exacerbate tics. To decriminalize forbidden words is to diminish their frequency.

So, Tyoma can sing a thousand foul verses and print innumerable rude remarks. We blithely ignore him.

Some tics are easier to disregard than others. For example, I cannot bear touching tics. On long rainy afternoons I find myself entertaining a child compelled to touch me a hundred times an hour.  Last year, he hinked my boozle, this year he’s punching me.

Little Punchies

I don’t mean painful, aggressive punches, I mean soft little fist taps, 10,000 times a day. We call them “little punchies.”

As accepting as I am to Tyoma’s neurology, I struggle with this particular tic. Unexpected touch sets off a four alarm fire in my head. I jerk, jolt, and avert my own impulses to misbehave. This involuntary dramatic, negative response ensured a plethora of future little punchies. We were stuck in a loop.

Self-pity was my first choice. Summer is inherently miserable for me, so resigning myself to punchies with a mournful sigh seemed the way to go. Within a few days, little punchie nightmares took over my sleeping world. Without a reprieve from insistent little fist taps, I woke frazzled and depressed to the core.

I needed to take action. I needed to find a way to de-criminalize punchies since ignoring them was not working.

The solution was so obvious; I can’t believe I didn’t think of it.

One day as I picked Tyoma up from swimming, our respite worker Danielle asked, “Have you ever considered getting him a punching bag?”

No, actually, I hadn’t. The elegance of this solution made me want to shout “D’oh!” to the heavens.

The next day, we picked up a mixed martial arts bop bag. The company who manufactures the bag could never appreciate the wonderful favor they did for us by emblazoning it with numbered strike zones. More attractive than my backside or torso, the target-styled numbers invited infinite little punchies (and some big punchies, too!).

Our new bop bag accomplished two delightful things. First, it gave me control over the little punchies, so I did not spend my afternoons engulfed in adrenal hyper-vigilance.  Second, it gave Tyoma an outlet for his prodigious energy.   Any suggested number sequence redirected volleys of dopamine-fueled punchies to “Bopping Billy.” Hooray!

Little Punchies

As I reflected on the success of Danielle’s suggestion, I recognized the existential issue of little punchies. Pointing my son to a punching bag is no different from me directing myself to a canvas or notebook. Our family experience of Asperger’s and Tourette’s includes such a superfluity of mental and physical energy that we must continually channel the excess or drown in the overflow. To master ourselves,  we must uncover new outlets, so energies blossom outward in useful, healthy ways.

23 responses

  1. Lori, this is awesome!!! I’m so glad the punching bag is helpful. As I was reading and I came across “The company who manufactures the bag could never appreciate the wonderful favor they did for us by emblazoning it with numbered strike zones.”, I Whooped out loud and started clapping!!! NUMBERS on a punching bag… heaven on earth for T!!! Amazing amazing amazing!!!!

    • Danielle, you are magic in a box! We are so grateful to have you in our lives. I learn something new every time we visit! I see such negativity surrounding autism and Tourette’s, your chill attitude and excellent observations have improved our whole family’s quality of life! Thank you for all your help and advice!

  2. Aw, we have one of those (in fact, we are on our second – an overzealous child friend destroyed the first one). We use it in conjunction with an indoor trampoline for the children to let off steam. I can’t recommend them both enough really

    • Yes! We have a trampoline too. It is essential for kiddos to get their energy out. Sometimes I feel like such a novice mom! Thanks for dropping by and sharing your thoughts!

  3. So glad someone made this suggestion as it was exactly what I was thinking. Teddy had a punching bag too. Direct the behavior that has to happen in a way that is completely acceptable. Although the bag got used often he did not take up boxing as a profession. Thank goodness! Tyoma is looking good in those red gloves. You did good! :-)

    • Thanks Charlotte! I miss a good deal of intuitive stuff so I am so grateful to have good friends who lend me their frontal lobes! I don’t think we have a boxer but I’d love to see him one day learning some martial arts. Discipline and movement mastery can boost self esteem!

  4. Now I know why my son loves to slap “buts” ( mine included ) as hard as he can. And I find it very annoying too. Hummm wonder if they have slapping bags… Lol
    Cheers

    • Ha! We have that too! My posterior must glow with a giant target sign when I bend over. It attracts pops, slaps, and punches! Thank you for sharing. We are the “Sisterhood of the Irresistible Bottoms!”

  5. if you have any suggestions for excessive handwashing and 3 hour showers, i would love to hear them! my partner is considering turning off the hot water heater, as the bil has gotten so high!

      • thanks so much lori! he is quite desperate to find a way to help his daughter with ocd tendencies, as they are effecting not only her quality of life but his (we don’t live together). her 3AM, 3+ hour long showers wake him up and increase his anxiety about the bills. anyway, thanks again, i am looking forward to hearing your suggestions!

        • Hi Kati!

          Of course I am not a doctor, but many family members live with OCD and I can share what has helped us as well as what has not worked. I am working hard to make this coherent, yet timely. I hope this helps.

          Punishment does not work and can make behaviors worse.

          My son Tyoma has a specific type of OCD associated with Tourette’s syndrome. He will have a thought, usually of something he is not supposed to do, like pinching, and he brain compels him to pinch. Think of a “Do Not Walk on the Grass” sign. Although you do not run through the grass, a tiny part of your brain imagines you doing so. This negative impulse can be irresistible to T. Sometimes he can fight it, other times, I get a pinch. The more upset I become over the pinch, the worse his compulsion becomes. Negative reinforcement makes the behavior worse.

          Ultimately, OCD is all about unwanted, negative thoughts. Punishment, a.k.a, negative reinforcement, doesn’t help people with OCD because it makes the anxiety worse, even for OCDers who don’t have Tyoma’s Tourettic OCD. That’s why some folks wash their hands till they bleed –a thought compels them.

          Uncover the thoughts behind compulsions.

          I will pick my skin until I disfigure myself, especially under stress. The thought that pushes me is that I am unclean and need to remove dirt from my skin. I use self-talk to remind myself that my thinking is unbalanced. Many with OCD use exposure therapy to reduce their anxiety. By learning to tolerate germier and germier situations, hand washing can be reduced. Usually a pediatric behavior specialist can help with this.

          Reduce Stress

          Not every OCD action can be banished with therapy. I don’t know why an anonymous family member pulls out his hair when he’s stressed, but he does. No amount of therapy has ever kept him from it. We give him replacement activities, but the best remedy has been to deal with the sources of stress in his life. Once the stress is down, so is the hair pulling.

          An adolescent girl has an insane amount of stress on her. Other girls can be incredibly mean and school can be overwhelming. I’d tabulate all the stressors in the young lady’s life and see what you can eliminate—several small changes can make a big difference.

          Medication

          Meds are a very personal choice. My Dad, son, and I all take medications to help us mange OCD. It’s not a cure but it can make the OCD thoughts less urgent and more ignorable. I have a schizophrenic friend who feels the same way about her antipsychotics—her meds help her manage the voices and realize that they are not real. OCD meds do the same for me—but I need to manage my stress and sleep or I am likely to pick or lose sleep over disturbing thoughts.

          Books can help

          I worked in mental health for years and have found that some therapists are spectacular and others are awful. The more complicated an individual’s profile is, the more essential it is to find someone who really knows what they are doing. This can be hard, especially when everyone else wants that same excellent doctor/behaviorist. I rely on chat rooms, other parents and books to manage. Books are a good way to tide you over until you can find the right help.

          Here are our two top reads:

          What do you do when your brain gets Stuck
          http://www.amazon.com/What-When-Brain-Stuck-What-/dp/1591478057/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1385238583&sr=8-1&keywords=when+brain+gets
          This a workbook aimed at kids and we use it all the time.

          The Tourette Syndrome and OCD Checklist

          We bought this when we first suspected TS. It is an easy read and very helpful for OCD as well as TS. We also bought one for our Case Manager so she could make accommodations.

          I hope this gives you a starting point. I live so much better with my OCD now. I can use the good parts of it while tuning out the bad stuff. It is work and will always be, but the right skills have given me much confidence. Tyoma is only 7 and has been greatly empowered by gaining an understanding of how he is different and how he can help himself.

          Best of luck to you, your partner and his dear girl.

          Lori D.

        • thanks for taking the time to comment on this lori, i really appreciate it.

          you are absolutely right, teenage girls are under an incredible amount of stress. my partner has made a point of finding a small, supportive school for her (he even moved a couple of hundred miles so that she could attend this school!). however, this doesn’t mean she is without stress–one of her superpower’s is hearing and she has told me of overhearing other girls talking about her, which breaks my heart.

          she is a voracious reader, so i will definitely check out your book recommendations.

          my partner and his ex are pretty anti-meds. while i understand their reasoning, i also think think they may not fully understand what meds can do and how they can help–but that’s another topic! as simply “the girlfriend”, i don’t have much say, however, i do my best to offer perspective and education.

          while i understand that punishment can make things worse, it can be difficult to distinguish what is actually “punishment” and what is reality based. my partner’s water and energy bills have increased significantly with his daughter’s recent episode of excessive hand washing & showering. so, his “threat” of turning off the water heater at night, was really a way of being able to still keep food on the table–he is a hard working man, but doesn’t receive the pay he is worth and he simply can’t afford continually increasing bills. he did find, however, that educating his daughter on how much water is being used during her showers in actual numbers, was very helpful.

          i know this may be a topic for another conversation, but how do you balance the needs of the person with various disabilities with the needs of other members of the household, some who may have their own, hidden disabilities? another way her excessive showering has effected me personally, is i have a sensory processing disorder and cannot stand the feeling of needing to void my bladder–it borders on painful, and with only one bathroom, this can lead to problems!

          i appreciate your thoughtful response lori, thank you!

        • Hello again!

          I extend my kindest regards to your partner’s daughter. I was teased and treated unkindly all throughout school. It breaks one’s heart. I coped by finding other kids like me. My mother told me that people who spend so much time hurting other kids must have serious problems of there own. Her words gave me strength and esteem. I hope she finds strength. Many young women are in her place and would welcome her friendship.

          I understand what you mean about the water problem. When I think “punishment” I think of getting grounded or having privileges taken away, like my allowance. Limiting warm water use is a natural consequence of having to pay bills. It’s reasonable to set a timer and say, after this it’s cold water. Tyoma is hyper-focused on out kitty–all afternoon he wants to groom her and carry her around. I set a timer for 20 minutes then kitty time is over. He becomes quite frantic because he “has to” groom her so I let him write out a schedule for when he can groom her next. Anyway, giving the young lady an understanding of a limit to the water is a good idea! Spectrum folks love logic!

          I am gearing up for thanksgiving, but will be thinking about your question concerning balancing needs. I think a post is in order! I’d like to add that we have a pair of potty lovers in this house. While my sensitivity to bladder pressure is not intense, I know what you mean.

          Wishing you a happy Thanksgiving!
          Lori

  6. i’m a dork and a late responder both! happy holidays to you!

    i would LOVE to hear your thoughts on navigating the needs of different people! thanks so much!

    • Yay! I feel so much better in being a late responder. At times I can just barely manage cooking and keeping up with my son. It’s easy for things to get away from me! I appreciate the cheer and encouragement! :)

      Lori D.

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