Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Too Much

As I was fixing dinner last night, Rose and Joy were around the corner on the living room square carpet. All of a sudden I heard a shriek. At first I thought it was one of Joy's various high-pitched shrieky-squeals, painful to the ears of anyone nearby but otherwise fairly harmless. But it went on -- an entire breath-worth. Then the breath caught... and I thought "Rose?"... and then the scream began again.

It was Rose. She had been lying on her back on the carpet, with Joy lying tummy-down on top of her, face-to-face. And Joy had suddenly zoomed in and BIT her. A full-circle-of-teeth, hard chomp, on the side of her face just next to her left eye.

Remember the awful bruise-producing biting that Joy was doing to herself back toward the end of the summer?

That's what she did. To her sister's face.

I didn't exactly know what to do with Joy other than remove her from the situation. Much more concerned with Rose, to get her a nice icy Boo-Boo Bunny and a cuddle on the couch to start processing this new trauma. (Remember, the stinky-weapon assault at school was less than a week ago...)

Something I said about last week's school incident was hugely applicable to this one:
You think a skill is learned, or that boundaries are in control, and then whammo.

This really came out of nowhere. Now, Rose has been treating Joy a little bit like an oversize rag doll at times, dragging her around and hugging too enthusiastically and talking at her in an exaggerated annoying baby-talk voice. We've been at her repeatedly to be more gentle with her sister, to read Joy's cues that she doesn't like the situation, to let her walk away. This time, though, it didn't seem like Joy was trapped. She was on top and not confined, she could've just gotten up and left, but instead she chomped.

One difference between this incident and school is that Rose didn't get an apology this time. The girl at school had a vocalization and a sign for "sorry," and was able to trace a pencil over the letters of an apology note that her aide wrote out for her in yellow marker. We've not yet got a vocabulary nor a consistent approach for what to do when Joy does something harmfully wrong, particularly to a peer. How to begin to get her to understand, or even go through some sort of apology motion? Which motion, even, given that she's not really using any signs at all other than a highly inconsistent "more" sign?

Bloggy input welcomed!

I feel so bad for Rose. She's just having to put up with more than a kid oughtta have to do.

After supper, when things had calmed down and a Joy-therapist was in attendance, I took Rose out to help me shovel snow off the driveway. She told me that she was going to try to keep further away from Joy for a little while, a reasonable approach (and all to the good really, if it gets her to stop the rag-doll games).

And then she said,
But that doesn't mean I don't love her.

Oh, my beautiful daughter.


Anonymous said...

Oh my, I am brought to tears by this event. I feel for Rose, for you and JoyDad, and for Joy. I wish we could know what was going on in Joy's mind, have some kind of communication about what moved her to bite Rose. I wish I could make Rose feel safe and secure and not worried that her dear little sister might hurt her. I wish I could solve this issue for you so that you could feel peace and "joy" when the girls are playing together, so you could feel that you could do other things in the house while leaving the girls unsupervised for a few moments. I can't do any of those things from here. I don't have any great wisdom or solution. I can only speak from my experience as a special ed student teacher and volunteer (going back a few years) and as a mother. My thought is, to help take care of Rose, is to perhaps take Joy by the hand and physically and gently place her hand on Rose and say a brief apology in Joy's name. You could also include a brief explanation to Rose that you are trying to teach Joy how to apologize, so Rose will understand why you are saying the words rather than Joy. This won't really do much to help Joy learn about apology and sorrow and regret, but it seems important that Rose feel that things have been set right again. In my experience with special ed students that could not communicate (not necessarily due to autism), it did help the one who had been injured to see some outward sign of apology from the one who had done the injuring. In this case, perhaps the top priority is Rose's feelings of needing to have a wrong done to her righted.
I think that you had good instincts to just remove Joy from the situation at that time. In general, the one who needed to get the immediate attention and fuss is Rose as the injured party. Even if Joy were able to communicate, it is usually more effective to comfort the one who is hurt rather than giving all of the attention to the one who has done the hurting.
I imagine that, over time, you will first work on Joy learning to do some outward physical act to show sorrow, such as the gentle hand on an arm or something. This act would probably happen by some verbal or physical prompt rather than coming from some internal sense of regret on Joy's part. I would hope that, someday, with her continued therapy and growth, Joy will develop more verbal communication and some understanding of feelings and emotions.
The only other thought I can leave you with is that the act of biting (or hitting or shoving or throwing a toy) are behaviors that many children do at a bit younger age than Joy. I have witnessed many unprovoked hurtful acts done by young children who are not able to communicate verbally yet. These acts are often not even tied in to any apparent anger or frustration. So, this might also be the case for Joy.
Please give Rose a big hug from me. She is such an amazing, loving little girl, and very wise to realize that she still loves her sister despite this. And do give Joy a hug for me, too, because I do still love her too!!

Maddy said...

We have issues with boundaries too. Both the boys can lash out unexpectedly and all too often I can't pinpoint the flash point.

When they're like that they also lose the ability to verbalize, I think it's the flip side of the same thing.

Biting seems to come [and go] in phases. Lashing out and self harm seem to come in the same package around here.

Anyway, I begin to ramble, but I think she has a wonderful sisterly attitude and I wish I had something constructive to contribute.

Best wishes

Niksmom said...

has some sage advice. I agree that it is more important right now for Rose to understand that her feelings *are* important and to help her not be afraid of being affectionate with Joy.

Something Maddy wrote triggered a thought. (Bear with me, it's actually relevant, I hope!) When cats are being petted they often respond with great delight and purr and stretch. After a while they become overstimulated by the continuation of the same thing. They react by biting or scratching b/c they do't kow anything else to do. I wonder if Joy was simply so overstimulated by the affetionate play with Rose that she couldn't regulate herself and did the first thing she knows...bite.

If Joy has some specific things she likes to mouth or bite for comfort (and propr. input), it might be helpful to make sure Rose knows what they are and to have them handy when they are playing.

Good luck. And give Rose's boo-boo a kiss from Nik; it always makes mine better! ;-) xo

pixiemama said...

Biting is all the rage in Casa de Pixiemama, too. I think it scares and upsets me nearly as much as it does the kiddo who has been bitten.

I think that what you did for Rose was absolutely the right thing - spending some time alone with her and letting her talk about how the experience affected her. I bet she doesn't expect an apology from Joy.

I do feel for all of the "other kids." I was at a meeting last night and a woman was telling me about the 15-year-old "neurotypical" son of a woman we both know - only I didn't even realize she HAD a neurotypical son. I thought she just had the two sons with disabilities. And then I thought - that's what people probably think about my family. I talk so much about my older sons and their needs that the other two don't exist in so many conversations and situations.

Rose is a darling sister to Joy.

Anonymous said...

So, per my nature, I am trying to problem-solve for something to give you as I read, starting with Rose first. But, per usual, in conclusion, your story depicts the best possible outcome (my opinion).

I agree with AuntieS (now possibly nicknamed AuntieRunAtTheKeyboard.) (I am fearless 'cause I live far away.)

For Rose, I am thinking, too, "natural consequences". As painful as a face-bite was, the lesson is hopefully more lasting than the pain.

All that is to reassure you - Rose is/will be fine. You handled the situation perfectly (my opinion). Remember that book I told you about - "The Normal One"?

Remorse is a pretty high-level cognitive concept.

Inability to communicate may be coincidental to Joy's developmental level of instinctive physical response in any one situation. I mean, WE perceive frustration from inability to communicate because we can, and that's what we would feel if we had that taken away. I do not assume her biting is out of frustration.

You may now refer to me as BRatK. Barbara

jess said...

But that doesn't mean I don't love her.

oh sweet rose. you have some serious fans out here in the ether, kiddo.

the time alone with her talking about her feelings is invaluable. you've made it clear that she matters, that her feelings matter.

as for joy, i would have suggested that you model the apology for her. even if she's not at aplace where she can replicate it, i find that it always is worthwhile to show her what the appropriate behavior would have been. and it helps to show rose that her sister is at least somewhat accountable.
i know how much that can mean to darby.

but stopping the behavior? oy. if i had the answer to that one i'd be on the beach in grand cayman sipping drinks!

Osh said...

Wow, I think everybody left such great comments...Rose is a wonderful sister to Joy.

Evan doesn't have siblings, so I haven't encountered this issue (being a single parent for most of his life, I was the target of the bites and punches and what all, and I still loved him)

You have a wonderful family and such a great support system in your neck of the state, boy oh boy do I wish that was the case further north.

Hugs to you all.

Anonymous said...

I agree with AuntieS (now possibly nicknamed AuntieRunAtTheKeyboard.) (I am fearless 'cause I live far away.)

therextras, LOL!! I will proudly accept that nickname! I have never been accused of being concise and brief! LOL!
AuntieS (aka AuntieRunAtTheKeyboard)

Anonymous said...

AuntieRunAtTheKeyboard, I am emboldened to make another comment - JoyMama is too busy ringing bells right now anyways.

I didn't think anyone lived NORTH of Joy and her family! 'Cept maybe Santa. Who has given me many blog-friends this year. For whom I am most grateful.

Merry Christmas! BRatK

Anonymous said...

As I've been mulling all this over, I got thinking that one reason Joy bites is because it feels good to her. Yesterday her OT gave her a chew toy and she proceeded to chomp and chomp until she was TOO calm. Then the OT had to take the chew away and perk Joy up a little. So if something makes Joy feel good, how is she going to understand that it isn't good? Know what I mean?

I have seen Joy feel sad/remorseful a couple times. Perhaps Elvis sightings, but I have seen it. A couple times I had her right in front of me with a very sad face of my own (over exaggerated), using as few words as possible in a sad voice(over exaggerated), letting her know what she did was not acceptable, that she hurt someone.
Of course, you need to catch the action right away. In a biting incident that's difficult since you want to help the bitee right away. Then by the time you get back to the biter, in Joy's case, she would have moved on to four other things already. But if it's something not as serious as a bite, I do think helping her say sorry is a good idea. Even just hand over hand having her sign it. And I think she should do it for adult also. Yesterday she pulled a therapists hair. Signing sorry for something like that would be a good opportunity to do it right after the incident.

We'll keep working on it! At least we know we have a great team we can depend on!

mama edge said...

Oh, I remember the horror I felt the first time Rocky bit his baby brother (in the gonads, no less, during a bath). I was right there in the room, and I couldn't prevent it. But oh did I beat myself up afterward. These things happen with our sensory-seeking kids. Not. Our. Fault.

And from then on, I kept a more watchful eye, and I prevented most of the bites, but not all. Sigh.

JoyMama said...

SO much good, useful stuff here. Thank you so much, everyone!

I do think that the "biting feels good" is probably more the scenario that fits the other night, rather than the overload or escape or frustration diagnoses (as far as I can tell from not having witnessed the actual chomp...)

We'll surely have plenty of opportunities for "sorry" in the future, I'm afraid. Between modeling the apology behavior, and the "fake it till you make it" approach, we'll find a way to make some kind of sorry happen for Joy. Lynda has encountered it more often than we, since there are always more peers at daycare! It does strike me that that's what I probably did with Rose, starting to model and identify "sorry" situations before they're really old enough to get it.

And Mama Mara, you win! Gonad chomp beats face chomp any old day of the week. Ow-EEEEE, as Rose says when she's milking an injury for all it's worth!

Anonymous said...

Hope has a permanent scar on her hand from where Rhema took a deep bite. Mike Tyson's got nothing on her. It was extremely upsetting. I felt kind of silly doing this, but I "made" Rhema say she was sorry and give Hope a hug. Rhema cried, I have no idea whether she understood any of it, but it made me feel better to model an appropriate apology.

Rose is a gift - what a wise and compassionate girl.

redheadmomma said...

Rose is such a gift to Joy. And Joy is such a gift to Rose. You have some amazing kiddos there.