Tuesday, July 26, 2011

They call me Butthead

I think my friend Jon coined my nickname 20 years ago, Butthead.  I never had the guts to ask him why he called me that so I don't know the impetus, but it fit so it stuck.  I wish I could say that nick name did not hurt but for all my bravado I have self-confidence issues.  After the fact the basis for the name was obvious, I can be righteous, self-centered, blunt, insensitive, and downright mean sometimes.  Thinking about it makes me wonder how I have any friends at all.

One of my sons, Jay, the 9 year old has a disorder on the Autism spectrum, its called Sensory Integration Disorder.  I suspect his case is middle of the road to mild as far as these things go but it is terribly hard to see the pain it causes him.  This disorder means that at times Jay's sensory filters fail and his brain receives all the information from his nervous system unfiltered.  For most of us this feels like finger nails on a chalk board, for Jay it feels like that all the time and then sometimes when an episode gets triggered its like a whole classroom of finger nails on the chalk board.  Times of stress are most likely to trigger these episodes, often stress from simple things like rushing him out of the house so he is not late for school.  When this happens, the seam on his socks drives him crazy, the tag in his shirts is unbearable, the smell of his brothers breath gags him, the dog whining makes him cover his ears and run, it is tough to watch him in such duress.  Thinking back on how I raised Jay I wonder how much of his disorder I have caused.  I am certain my complete lack of sympathy for his struggles early on amplified his disorder in some way.

When Jay is in this state he says things and does things to his brothers that are down right mean.  He will call them stupid, he will push them, he will take their toys, often if the noise is too much for him he will scream at them.  Watching him I can see he has no idea what he is doing.  At that point he is so self-centered all he can think about is making the chaos go away.  There is only one way to bring him down when he gets like this, I have to sit him on my lap and listen to him, comfort him, help him feel in control again to the point where he can turn what minimal filters he has back on again and start interacting normally with the world.

Personally I would rather sit on my lap than Lady Gaga's but...
My counselor helped me better understand Jay and his condition.  He also helped me see it from a different perspective, rather than seeing Jay's struggles as somehow Jay's fault, seeing him as a loving boys with a disorder.  These may seem obvious but they were not for me in the heat of a meltdown.  I have to admit sometimes wanting to just disown him.  The compassion and understanding I now have for Jay allows me to slow down and sit him on my lap, exactly what he needs.  The realization Jay is not doing this to manipulate me, its simply the way he is has given me the patience to hear him.

Watching Jay I learned something else, I have sensory integration disorder.  Now that I learned to recognize these episodes in Jay I also recognize them in myself.  I've come to realize when I am having an episode I am righteous, self-centered, blunt, insensitive, and downright mean.  I am Butthead.  Learning this, I had a choice, I could throw up my hands and say well that's just the way I am and use it as an excuse to be a dick or I could take positive action and unButtheadize myself.

Turns out, every ounce of effort I put into managing my inner Butthead makes me that much more effective a dad for Jay.  Today I saw him actually recognize an episode, take charge of it, and calm his own inner Butthead.  Well he has about a 35 year head start on me, I bet it pays off.

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