When Tucker was young someone told me that I needed to ‘break him’ of ‘that.’ I don’t even remember what ‘that’ was – but now I’m positive it was spectrum related.
Was it because he bolted and ran when he should have stood beside me?
Was it because he threw himself on the ground if it was too noisy?
Was it because he stood on everyone’s feet?
Was it because he wouldn’t let go of me?
Was it because he would scream uncontrollably if the ‘plan’ changed?
Was it because he would run and jump on the couch over, and over, and over again?
Was it because he would scream if the food felt funny in his mouth?
I don’t know what it was – but I do know that it sounded awful to me.
Break him? What exactly did that mean?
Break him of his energetic, fantastic spirit? Break him so he never speaks again?
Break his soul?
Break him so he never feels worthy?
That is not what I want for my child, for any child. Truly, even if I had been into ‘breaking’ him it would have only made the behavior worse. This is something I do not now – nor have I ever understood.
Responding to fear with anger creates more fear.
Responding to sadness with anger creates more sadness.
Responding to anger with anger…well creates more anger.
Let me also say that it’s frustrating, very frustrating. Parents with young children on the spectrum – it does get ‘better.’ I promise. There will always be moments – but once you find your stride and what works for your child…it will get better, easier.
But breaking? No way.
That’s how we have ended up with so many ‘broken’ (not my term…stealing from modern language) adults wandering around and finding fulfillment, love, and acceptance in hurtful, harmful ways.
I don’t want that for my son.
Early this year I read an article entitled, “The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered and It’s Not What You Think.” Truly, it is one of my favorite pieces I’ve read in quite some time. It’s about addicts – and the reasons that addicts are addicts. One side believes addiction is a, ‘disease taking place in a chemically hijacked brain‘, the other side believes addition is a, ‘moral failing caused by too much hedonistic partying.’
During the 1980’s we were all exposed to a research study involving rats. The experiment was simple. One rat, one cage, two bottles. One bottle filled with water, the other with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time, the rat became obsessed with the drugged water and kept coming back until it kills itself.
A professor of Psychology in Vancouver, Bruce Alexander, noticed that the rat was in the cage alone. He wondered what would happen in the rat was surrounded by friends and activities. So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. The Rat Park had colored balls, the best rat food, tunnels, and plenty of friends.
Well…the rats still tried the water from both bottles – but then something unexpected happened. The rats with the good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They stopped drinking it and none of them died.
Huh? Togetherness? A culture of understanding? A culture that doesn’t force people to ‘break bad.’
The experiment gave further insight to Professor Peter Cohen, a researcher in drug use, policy, and use epidemiology. He argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. Oh wait, didn’t Maslow develop those ideas years ago? Isn’t the one of the five basic needs of being a human? Receiving (and giving) love?
Cohen found that, ‘if we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find — the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.’
Human connection is also the opposite of ‘breaking’ a child. There seems to be a strange, interconnection here. The breaking of a child leads to a loss of a bond. The loss of that bond heightens the risk for drug use and abuse. This drug use and abuse stands in the way of forming new, authentic bonds.
The next time you meet an adult that is struggling in this way…think back to this moment. I refused to ‘break’ Tucker. Instead, we made sure his life was full of love, compassion, understanding, support, and patience. Not because it was easy. Not because it always came natural to us.
But because we knew, instinctively, that breaking him would result in him, one day, breaking bad.