72 hours (DBG Blog Part 2)

Wed, 15 February 2012

When does teenage behaviour end and ADHD (or autism) begin? Is there even a definitive border between the two?  There's a woefully low amount of easily accessible information about the effects on teenagers, especially at the "transition ages" between child and adult life.

Yes, you guessed it, the "war" between David and the rest of the family continues.

Since turning 16, David has had a fascination for hanging around with 13 or 14 year old girls despite repeated cautions and warnings from both his mother and myself about how inappropriate it is (especially as he blurs the line between "friendly" behaviour and "relationship" behaviour). It got him the nickname "pedo" from his so-called friends, and even when the school called us and expressed their disbelief that we "allowed this to happen" he still wouldn't take the hint and calm down his pursuit of these girls.

When he left school and started college, where the peer group there was older and (according to his counsellor) he would begin to follow that group around and learn adult behaviour from them, we thought the situation would improve. It did for a while, although it was still apparent that he was always talking to girls rather than boys his age, then suddely all of his "mates" from college stopped talking to him, as far as we could see (a theory borne out by the recent claims from him that all his former college mates were "twats"). He claimed to us that he had been going to town with mates from college, but it turned out that his two most common "friends" were a 16 year old girl and another girl who he claimed was 16 but, as was revealed this weekend, was actually 14.

We've had a constant battle with David's sense of self control and his awareness of consequence. The "pedo" incident was a prime example of his actions resulting in a popular view of him among his peers that he had cultivated without being aware of it. He resents the constant namecalling from his peers who often refer to him as "Beiber" due to his physical similarity to a certain young pop idol, but he won't take the only action available to prevent the similarities - getting a haircut. "Ooh," you're probably saying, "a teenager who won't get a haicut? What a unique thing!"  I can almost smell the sarcasm.  My current view on this is that if he wants to try and be unique by looking like every other teenager then that's his business. If, however, his "image" is getting him ridiculed by others and it's causing him distress, then is it really that important?

He spent most of Saturday on Skype on his iPod having a four way conversation with some people he had met on either Facebook or some other social networking thing. He asked on Saturday night if he would be allowed to go out on Sunday. When asked where, he said "into town". When asked who with, he said "a friend". As is becoming the norm, he wants to hang out in the streets or in shopping centres with people we've never met. Not an abnormal occurrence for a teenager, but in David's case there are variables that mean we have to be a little more vigilant about his safety. He has been classed by social services and mental health services as a "child in need", a term that used to be called a "child at risk". Simply put, he's been deemed unable to be fully aware of his own safety in the community and is at high risk of putting himself or others in positions of vulnerability.  He is also highly likely to be classed as a "vulnerable adult" due to the severe nature of his autism and the fact that he doesn't understand the motives of others. So we tend to try and resist him hanging around with people we don't know. Anyway, back to Saturday. We asked him which friend and he told us her name. I asked him how old she was and he replied "15". His mother and I both agreed that it was inappropriate to be hanging around at his age and with his "history" with someone of that age when neither he nor us could be confident of his motives in the relationship with her (as I said, he blurs the lines). I said that if we could meet her or speak to her parents about it and see if they were OK with the situation then it would be no problem, otherwise he wouldn't be allowed to go. He was not happy about it and stormed off to bed.

Sunday morning came and again he asked if he could go out, obviously having conveniently forgotten the conversation of the previous night. The evidence of the last three years of interaction with David on a day to day basis has shown a consistent ability to "forget" conversations that don't go the way he wants them to go. Often, during the heated discussions that follow these revelations of forgetting conversations, he will reference points made during those conversations, so is he really forgetting or, as has become clear in other ways, is he just using that as an excuse?

We reiterated our points from the night before. He began to get angry and raise his voice. We responded by reiterating that he needed to understand the inappropriateness of what he was doing and that he had repeatedly proved that he couldn't be trusted to make decisions that meant he was safe and that others were safe. We cited the fact that we have repeatedly shown him the risks of starting "friendly" relationships with 14 year olds, and he retorted by saying that we had no objections to his friendship with another 14 year old girl (name witheld). The problem there was that he told us at the time that the girl in question was 16.

Therein lies another branch of the problem tree. David has been caught in so many lies about so many things that it's difficult for us to know what's the truth and what isn't. He lies about important things (where he is, what time he's meant to start college, who he's with, receipt of reports or letters from college/school) and relatively trivial things (did he wash his face, has he had a drink, has he had breakfast, has he changed his socks in a week, are there any fruit skins behind his cupboard) so often that it's quicker to count the truths he has told. If we don't press him on anything then his lies go undetected for weeks or months, but eventually he gets found out. In this case, he had told us that this girl was 16 so that we would not make an issue of his hanging arond with her, and now he had just let slip that she was actually 14. He had told us that the girl he was going to meet on Sunday was 15, but we found out later that day that she was, in fact, only just 14.

So the argument carried on. He claimed that he wanted to be treated like an adult as he will be 18 in a month. We argue that he isn't acting anything at all like an 18 year old, and that 18 year old "men" don't generally hang around with 14 year old girls. He tearfully objects that he has been told by the mental health services that his mental age is younger and that he can't relate to people his own age so he HAS to hang around with 14 year olds because they understand him better. We counter that he his peer group and friends at college will help him learn to relate to people his own age, and that if he continues to hang around with people younger than himself then he'll never learn to develop. It was at this stage that he decried a number of his former friends to be "twats", which was why he wasn't friendly with them any more.  Interesting that he's just contradicted himself by complaining he wasn't being treated as an 18 year old then following it up with claims that he's developmentally NOT an 18 year old. He does this a lot - he uses his diagnosis and "disabilities" when they work in his favour. When they would hold him back from doing something he wants to do, then he doesn't like admitting that he's disabled.

Ultimately, after an hour of back and forward argument around the same subject, we were still sitting there with him saying it wasn't fair that he couldn't go out, and pressing the issue for us to just say he could go.  By this time, Anne's stress levels are having a visible effect. Her lips are pale and her eyes are starting to close. Her intracranial hypertension and levels of medication are starting to shut her body down. Is it wrong that part of me wonders whether David knows that this is the effect he is having (as we have always been honest about the potential scenarios that Anne's conditions can present - stroke is one highly likey possibility according to the neurologist).  After our confrontation a couple of weeks ago I presented David with the option that if he wanted to be part of the family and enjoy the benefits and perks that being part of a family offered, then he had to start acting as if he was actually part of that family. This stems from the fact that he lives off of my income and that it variously pays for his internet access, his television, his XBox use and so on - crass capitalism I know. When after three years of support for his education, mental health, ADHD, Autism, sleep and social problems, girl trouble, sexual health advice and so on, as well as the other, more tangible support like money and clothes and, well, stuff, he can turn on me and tell me that I don't care about him, then it's clear to me that something isn't right. Typical teenage lashing out, i know, but there's nothing in the "parenting rulebook" that says I have to like it, is there?

At that time he was told that if he wanted to enjoy internet access and so forth then he had to accept that he had to follow the same rules as everyone else in the house. He agreed. Now, on this fateful Sunday morning, he was clearly stating that our rules meant nothing to him and that he was going to damn well go out and hang around with a child if he damn well wanted to. So I explained to him very slowly and very carefully that what he was doing right now was wrong. He wanted to do something that was bordering on dangerous and that he didn't have the social or moral understanding to be able to make the correct decision and that we as his parents have an obligation to keep him safe. If he decided that he was going to go out, knowing how his mother felt about it, then he would be raising the stress levels in the house and putting his mother at health risk. If he decided to go where he was going then he was in defiance of our wishes as his parents and guardians and that our legal responsibility was the reason we were against his actions. If he walked out of that door he would be sacrificing his right to be treated as part of a family BY HIS OWN CHOICE over the clear and specific objections of both his biological mother and her partner. The first consequence of that would be the permanent loss of his internet access in our house and there would likely be other consequences due to the message he would be sending to his mother and the rest of his family.

He deleted the wireless network from his iPod, showed me the screen and walked out. That was at around 12:30pm

We didn't hear from him directly until he came back in 11 hours later at 11:30pm.  Amy found the girl's phone number who he was meeting and she texted her to find out if they were together, and she said that he was there and would be back no later than 9:30. Obviously, as just stated, this didn't happen. He came in, took his medication (voluntarily and without being reminded, I might add) and went straight to bed without two words to us. Completely oblivious to the fact that his mum had been going frantic about the situation.  My role here was essentially trying to calm Anne down - the fact that he was known to be at this girl's house was enough for me to be satisfied that he wasn't dead in the street, at least, but there's always that little bit of doubt, isn't there?

Next day, Monday. I went to work at 8:30. David got up, got dressed and sneaked out of the house at about 10:30. The only reason we know what time it was is that he spoke to Derri before he went out and Derri noticed the time.  Amy again texted this girl to see if he was with her, and she said he was. Anne called me at work to tell me what was happening but told me that things were OK and that he'd said he'd be back at 6:30.

He came back at midnight. No call to say where he was. Amy again texted the girl during the evening to check he was still there and he was, so again I was satisfied. We've been here before, where he's got involved with some girl and decided that she's far more important than his family (out of sight out of mind) and wandered back at some stupid time without even realising the way it affects anyone else. But then he's autistic and doesn't think the same way as other people and has no sense of empathy. Or does he? More on that later on...

By this time, as far as I'm concerned, I'm absolutely certain he's doing this purely as revenge for us telling him that he couldn't go out on Sunday and DARING to defy HIS wishes. I currently wouldn't shed a tear if he packed a bag and vanished. At the moment I'm spending all of my time trying to make sure Anne's OK, and deal with her grief at the realisation that there's nothing she can do as a mother to improve things. She blames herself for the situation and for how David has turned out. I point to Amy and Derri (Derri in particular as he has been brought up by Anne and myself since he was 4) as clear evidence that she is not failing as a mother. They are both well-balanced, respectful, loving offspring (Amy's not really a child any more) who understand the household family rules and follow them. Amy, at 21, calls home if she's going to be 20 minutes late!

Anyway. After a brief discussion on Monday night about what he was doing and why, where he presented a very thin set of excuses to Anne that I didn't listen to (I went and checked the dog for fleas instead), he was sent to bed.

Roll on Tuesday. He was meant to be up at 10 to start helping around the house and mind his brother whilst Anne went to work, but he had to be woken up at 11:30. Another petty message to us, I think.  He stayed in through the day and, admittedly, did some stuff to help around the house on his terms as usual. In the evening we ate our dinner and suddenly he appeared and sat with us. Not a word of conversation, just sitting perched on the edge of the sofa. Well, it rankled me a bit, so I asked him why he was sitting with us. He was much confused. I said that I was confused as to how, after two days of treating us with as much consideration as he would give dog shit on his shoe, he was now sitting with us as if he wanted to be part of the family. He said he wanted some company.  I suggested to him that it was moderately hypocritical for him to even consider that he could just brush away the last two days of, let's face it, antisocial behaviour without even a word of apology or explanation and just ignore the absolute hell that he's put his mother, sister and brother through over the preceding 48 hours. I asked him if he had any doubts that he was in the right and he didn't understand the question.

Anne went into a lot more detail about how things had affected us all and how her worries about him are based on her love for him and her understanding of his needs and his condition but that she can't understand the things he does or the way he does things. She can't reach a balance of opinion on his claims that he loves her and cares about her against his actions, where he does things that seem to prove that he does not care one bit about her.

All of his family agreed, to his face, that there's a lot of fear of his reactions and actions in any situation in the house. Derri lives in constant fear that anything he says will get him some level of angry retort from David - anything from being shouted at to being hit. Amy is terrified to walk out of the house because she feels that she might come back to find her mum having had a stroke, Derri bruised and beaten or even me dead of a heart attack (which I'm at high risk of due to diabetes and high blood pressure). She fears that her baby will be born into a house where there's a risk that David will lose his temper and thoughtlessly start throwing things around and hit the baby (he has shown that this is possible as he threw a table across the living room about 18 months ago). His claim is that these things all happened in the past and that he'd never do those things again. Everyone else's opinion is that he has admitted that he is impulsive and that he has no self-control. How can he then say that he won't lose his temper? "Because I won't," he answers. Not convinced.

Concerns are raised again that his level of abuse, both physical and emotional, have escalated over time and that there's nothing to suggest that he has any control over it. Comparisons are made that I won't go into here that infuriate him and he storms out of the house, proving that he has no self control when confronted with a situation he has no answer to that makes him look good. He runs, as he always does. In the past when his propensity to run away has been mentioned he has claimed that if he doesn't leave the situation he, and this is a direct quote "can't keep himself from lashing out". This kind of makes a mockery of his now saying that he will never lash out at anyone.

When he eventually comes back (with his coat on - Anne asks if he's planning to run out again, and he spits "I'm cold"), I direct the conversation back to the original issues I wanted to address, mainly about what he thought he was playing at by staying out til midnight and who he thinks he is hurting by doing it and what he hopes to gain. He claims that he was late (remember he said he would be back by 6:30) because he had to finish watching Avatar. Amy points out that Avatar is about 2.5 hours long which means he would have started watching it at about 9, which is still 2.5 hours later than he said he would be in. Anne asks him why he couldn't phone. "Because I didn't think about it".  Anne comments that this isn't really very good that he can't even think about taking a minute to let the people that love him know where he is and that he's safe. I tell him that as far as I'm concerned I would expect any member of the family to have the common decency to at least let someone know where he is and what he's doing and cite again that Amy always tells us where she is or if something is going to make her late. David shouts "stop comparing me to Amy". I respond with "No, Amy is a member of this family the same as you claim to want to be, and she is nearly 22 and pregnant and she STILL accepts that other people's feelings are important and that we should be told if she's going to be late". I go on to say that there's no excuse for what he's done and that he needs to do a lot of growing up if he wants anyone to take him seriously as an adult, especially if he insists on hanging around with children.

This obviously touches a nerve here, because he starts to get tearful again and diverts the conversation by saying "OK, I'll tell you the reason why I didn't tell you [I would be late]" and then tells us about something that had got him upset at this girl's house and it was the last thing on his mind.

I told him that I didn't care about that, as it's nothing to do with me. This thing that had got him so upset involved people I don't know, have never heard of and have absolutely no feelings about whatsoever. I empathise with any bad situation, but not to the exclusion of the people I care about.  He tried to go further into this situation that I know or care nothing about and I cut him off, saying that whatever this situation was it had nothing to do with me and was irrelevant - I was going to go on to say that he shouldn't be shouldering the problems and burdens of people he has either just met or doesn't know whilst ignoring the family that cares for him, but he jumped up and shouted "that really hurts" and again stormed out. I tried to get him to come back, but he literally ran off. I'm a fat asthmatic, so it was no contest really.

The note I made about his lack of empathy above seems to ring false here, where he has shown that he can have empathy for others outside his "family group", in seeming paradox to the claims of the psychologists that have diagnosed his conditions. Interesting, huh? It brings me back to the original question of how to differentiate between teenage "angst" and autistic or ADHD behaviours.

As it stands at the moment, on Wednesday morning, is that he hasn't yet returned.  We know he went to this girl's again (Amy again texted) and he refused a lift back. I don't know where she lives or any way to get in touch with her parents to discuss the issue so I'm in a tricky position. Anne is quietly going mad, Amy and Derri are panicking about how this is affecting Anne and Jason (Amy's boyfriend) is fretting about Amy's stress levels and how they affect the baby.

As for me? This has been going on now for about a month and a half at this level, slowly climbing into the range of feverish idiocy.  For me, the crescendo of David's attitude and behaviour was reached when he tried to drive a wedge between me and his mother by claiming that I punched him. I say again that this was a lie - another lie in a forest of lies - but it's the first time he's lied to this extent and with such a clear goal in mind. He knows that the one thing that would make his mother reject me would be if I was violent to any of them, and he's blatantly used that.  Thankfully, his mother, his brother and his sister all know me well enough to know "that's not how I roll" - Derri was there at the time this alleged act took place, and he knows I didn't do it. David himself was caught in the lie the next day when he contradicted himself. He then tried to claim that I "never cared" about him and that I hate him. The fact that he did these things, and clearly wanted to drive that wedge into his own family, has affected me quite badly. I start counselling tonight as a result of this and events since, because I find it increasingly difficult to separate myself from the things he does whilst trying to keep the rest of the family safe.  I'm in what I call phase 1 of a depressive cycle - escapism - and I'm desperately trying to stop that from going any further.

The sad fact is that he said I "never cared", but that wasn't true. Yes, "WASN'T". Now, I'm sorry to say, I have little time for David's feelings. I have three other people in my life that I care more for and that David is hurting and has been hurting for a long, long time.  They're my priority now and if that makes David think that I don't care about him then he only has to look in the mirror to find the one to blame.  Not that he will ever blame himself. Apparently he woke up late one morning with only 20 minutes before he had to leave for college and blamed Derri for it. Like his 12 year old brother is responsible for what time he gets up.

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