The other day I got a call from Nat’s group home supervisor. Nat had just had a bad meltdown. It was a terrifying sound. He screamed and hit his head hard. He scratched his flatmate. I was so sad for Nat because I know he loves his group home and his housemates.
I immediately thought, “It’s January.” Nat has always had harsh winters. One recent winter he was self harming and screaming every day so we took him out of that living arrangement and he stayed with us for months until something new opened up. I was at home on
Another winter he broke a window with his head. he was fine He was sitting in a rocking chair, swaying uncontrollably. Then there was the winter when he was 10 years old and he was exiled for behavior.And then there was the time 15 years ago that led to him moving into his school residence.
Behavior is back. But it’s not the same. we are not the same At 33, we know Nat well.
And Nat knows a lot more about the world. We know winters here in New England can be as brutal as they are long. Long, tedious days where being outside feels raw and sometimes painful. We struggle to do anything as the harsh cold air grips our throats and inertia immobilizes us.
But Nat is an outdoorsman. A veteran of the COVID-era 7 Mile Walk. A man who learned to rock climb in Colorado. The treadmills that such a person can tolerate are limited.
So the people in his life often have to get really creative to keep the peace. . Nat’s group home supervisor wanted to know recommendations for keeping Nat feeling engaged during this unrelenting season.
How to engage nuts. An old question. As a toddler, the answer was chasing, playing peekaboo, reading stories, and singing.
However, those interests have gradually diminished or changed to something else. Now he sings loudly and confidently in his own rock band. But when he plays the same song at home, he sits in silence unless we ask him to sing.
I believe that if left alone, they would sit on the couch or in their room for hours and only do active things if we asked them to. Passive.
Unless it’s one of those winter phases. The question isn’t just what else Nat loves, but how can I calm him down? Sometimes the answer is lots of activity, lots of “Nat, let’s go for a walk!” Or “Nat, let’s ride a bike!” Right way means you really have to mean it. Too cold and you won’t be able to serve it to him.
Nat is not patronized or cheated. He knows when people see him as work and when people really want to be with him. In other words, you really have to care. you can’t fake it.
When Nat is with us, the problem we usually face is a passive, taciturn Nat who responds to sincere invitations to play. But if we encounter anger, frustration, or outbursts, the solution is to listen carefully.
Then try to make fun of what he says. Sometimes he expresses his irritation in words that aren’t really bothering him. You need to guide him to say the right words to unleash what’s upsetting him.
Once you figure out what’s really bothering him (usually it’s the expected activity not happening), you have to find an acceptable substitute of equal value. So if you can’t bake bread after lunch, you can substitute it by baking it very early in the day or just before dinner. In that case, his upset golden nugget is that he wants to do something that brings a sweet treat.
I explained all of this to the people working with Nat, and I also found myself reassuring them. It often happens when I’m bored.”
But I also tell them that we have to strengthen our interaction with him so that he believes we really care. You need to find the right words to connect with him and then negotiate a solution with him.
You have to want to succeed. But if your focus is to stop him, you’re likely to fail.You want him to feel relieved and happy. it has to be about him. otherwise it won’t work. In other words, you have to care, and if you do, it will shine from you and he will see it. He needs connection like we all do, but on his own terms.
like all of us.