Tuesday 7 January 2014

Fighting Addiction

I've posted before about how Alex loves to press the buttons on our washer to hear the beeping noises.  Unfortunately, this shuts down the washer, forcing me to restart the cycle from scratch.  It's an incredibly strong compulsion and he takes any opportunity to do it.  We've essentially been having to only do laundry when Alex is out of the house (which was very difficult over the holiday break).

If we do have to run the washer while he's home (and with 3-4 loads per day, it happens), one of us has to park ourselves in the front room and keep him from going upstairs.  If I'm on my own, I have to take him with me if I have to leave the front for any reason (including going to the bathroom).  It's been a real challenge and really limits what we can get done during the day.

I've gotten several suggestions on how to help the situation ranging from recording the sounds to allowing him to press the buttons when I start the laundry to help satisfy the compulsion.  All of the suggestions assume that his urge can be satisfied and then he will no longer be interested.

This can work for some behaviours.  If a child shows an interest in something but can be otherwise redirected or prevented, then giving them a valid opportunity to indulge that interest can help.

Alex's behaviour is more like an addiction.  No one suggests that giving a heroin addict a shot of heroin will somehow reduce their craving for the drug.  The key difference is his level of persistence.  When he will not stop despite having an adult present and warning him (and this has happened when he's made a dash up the stairs and I've followed him) and he knows that consequences will follow (time out or loss of privileges), then the behaviour doesn't fall into the rational.

When an impulse is that strong, the only way we can deal with it is total prevention.  When he was tunneling through the walls of his room, it took three months of staying to watch him before the impulse died.  When he was obsessed with shredding paper, he had to be supervised with limited opportunities for five months.  We're still trying to prevent him from pressing the hazard buttons on every car that he can get into.  Our hope is that with prevention, we can move the impulse to the back of his brain instead of it being a constant temptation.

Old impulses do raise their heads from time to time but a period of prevention usually quiets them down again.

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