Weeks before my son’s fourth birthday, we said goodbye to his pacifier. His souska* relieved anxiety and soothed him to sleep. His pacifier was a wonderful tool and improved the quality of everyone’s life. We were sad to see souska go, but Liev was developing a ghoulish open bite. Imagining a future of uncomfortable dental headgear, we decided to take the pacifier away.
When you take something away from a child with autism, a replacement will be found. Parents hope the replacement will be a wonderful, adaptive new behavior, but it usually isn’t. Autistic mental wiring means unusual problem solving. An individual’s needs will be met, often in unexpected ways.
My son substituted nose blowing for his beloved pacifier. He did not run around with a box of tissues, blasting away his stress. No, he had to blow his nose on me! On my arm, on my backside, on my tummy, and on any part he could mash his face against.
The nose blowing worsened when my mother in law came to visit. After a hard day in preschool, Liev would erupt in afternoon- long nose-blowing fits. I became a walking snot-rag. I didn’t dare wear black due to unsavory mucous smears around my bottom and bosom. I was exasperated. I understood why he sought me out—I am Mama. But nose blowing? Seriously? Ugh!
Utterly perplexed and disgusted by this behavior, I scoured the internet for advice. I bought and read books. I asked for help from his teachers. I tested sweet, sour, salty and crunchy treats. I tried fidgets to dissipate tension. Extra attention and affection did not lessen the behavior. Discipline and limit setting only aggravated the situation. Nothing stopped the behavior.
At last, I decided to ignore the behavior. What was the worst thing that would happen? Would he become an evil villain who planned world domination via snot? Nah. My choice did not diminish the nose-blowing, but ignoring the behavior helped me. I could focus on being calm instead of calculating what I should do next—an important thing for an Aspie.
Three months into the snot wars, I had an idea. I took a Panic Pete fidget and instructed Liev to blow his nose on “Snitty Pete” instead of me. I told him he would “really gross Pete out” and made “Ewwww!” sounds every time Liev used him.
The hilarity appealed to Liev. Snitty Pete worked.
I wondered why I didn’t try something like this sooner. As I watched Liev crush Snitty Pete into his face, I had a realization. He was seeking a specific sensation to soothe himself. Snitty Pete had a squashy texture, not unlike my backside and tummy. This pressure on his nose and upper jaw provided him with the tension relief he desperately needed.
The nose-blowing didn’t go away that day, but it did get much better. Nowadays, we still have snotty interludes, particularly when Liev is ill or stressed, but I don’t freak out. It’s a secret code between the two of us, a distress signal. I know that my son needs a break and deep pressure soothing. We have a fine, albeit odd, understanding.
*Souska is Russian for pacifier.