Saturday, January 9, 2010

What's so bad about perserverance?

Anyone with a kid on the spectrum is familiar with the "problem behavior" called perseveration. A by-the-book definition would be an uncontrollable repetition of a phrase or activity. In practice the uncontrollable part gets left off, or maybe the point is that the observer can't control the behavior by saying "stop it." And usually it's more about the observer's annoyance than problems being caused. Msk perseverates (or focuses or repeats) quite a bit. He's drawn to images or dialog and copies them over and over. He experiments with small changes as he mulls these objects over and over. Drawings become captured images of an animation. Repeated dialog gains a ritualized meaning.

If I was dreaming of a cure or recovery from autism for him these behaviors would probably be a place to start. Since there are activities that aren't perseverative and speech that isn't echolalic, I suppose a warrior mom would be struggling mightily to erase the "bad" and bring out the minimal amount of "good" behaviors. I'm afraid I'm more of a "bad" autism mom. Those repeated phrases with their ritualized meanings are about the only clue I have of msk's feelings and thoughts. Typical speech is reserved for concrete objects and actions, but emotions just aren't conveyed that way. And I treasure his drawings. It's the hours of repetition and the stacks of paper that he goes through that have honed his idiosyncratic skills.

Last week msk spent at least an hour typing on my netbook while flipping through the pages of Dr. Seuss's ABC's. A few furtive peeks (msk is not into being interviewed of even observed when he creates) let me know he was doing some sort of transcription. When it was time for bed MS Word was quickly closed. The next time I opened Word it asked if I wanted to recover a document and I found that he had, page by page, recreated the book, including font style and color. It was an amazing amount of work for a kid who barely speaks.

When I see msk lying on the floor filling up page after page of a notebook I'm reminded of painters learning their craft. When I hear the same phrase repeatedly spoken, with all it's associated meanings, I think of a poet, endlessly working over a single page of words to develop a perfect poem. These "problem behaviors" don't subtract from msk's humanity, they add to it.

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