For our autistic son, anger shows up when he can’t make himself understood. Which is pretty often since he speaks in round about ways. When he decides to use words at all.
This morning, all was going well getting him ready for the paratransit and me for work. Once Joey’s had breakfast and meds, we’re pretty much ready for me to leave (“Dad has to go to work” is one of his favorite phrases) and for Melissa to come out and watch for the bus with him.
So as Melissa joined him on the couch, I said, “Joey, who’s that?”, which is a way we prompt him to acknowledge the presence of another person.
Instead of the expected and happy “Hi, mom,” he glared at me and, in a deep, menacing tone started bellowing “Who’s that?” back at me, over and over.
Melissa spoke to him with some tenderness, and I asked him if it was time for “Dad has to go to work,” and that seemed to stop the situation from escalating into who-knows-what-kind-of-hell.
Later, via text and a phone call, Melissa let me know that she had established communication with him and found the source of his anger. It ran something like this:
Melissa: Joey, how do you feel?
Joey: Happy. (His inflection said anything but happy).
Melissa: Did you want mom to come out here sooner?
Melissa: Did I take too long to come sit with you?
Melissa: So you’re angry at me.
By establishing communication, Melissa eased Joey’s frustration and the resultant anger.
The communication also kept me from frustrating myself (and getting angry) by letting my imagination wander around producing “causes” for Joey’s anger, blaming myself or some set of unrelated circumstances for what was a pretty simple case of, “I want mom to come sit with me now” (which of course he won’t say unless prompted).
It also spared Melissa from worrying that Joey and I had some kind of confrontation or other upset before she came into the room – imagining that something had gone wrong and that I wasn’t taking time to warn her as I rushed off to work.
The constant effort of care giving, as an astute commenter noted yesterday, can rub one’s last nerve raw. Care givers and those in our care can imagine all kinds of insults, bad intentions and stupid stuff when we are at our most run down.
Communication is one form of calming, cooling medicine for our nerves, to prevent outbreaks of anger.