One of the interesting things about spending time with Mom is the time we get to talk. She tells me more stoies when we're in face to face conversation than when we're on the phone or chatting via Skype. Those conversations tend to focus on the immediate events. The conversations we have face-to-face allow us time to delve family history or topics deeper than a day's bowling scores.
Last night, before dinner, Mom and I were able to talk about our feelings of how we're doing as Moms and caregivers of individuals with special needs. She has really been struck by how similar the behavior my sister has is to the behavior exhibited by my youngest. I've noted it before but I think this week was a bit eye opening for her. We talked about how there are times when we catch ourselves wondering if we're crazy, if they're exaggerating their issues for attention, if we get behavior that they don't give to others. Both have anxiety-based behavior. Both are manipulative and try to be controlling because it makes them feel safe. Neither can express their emotions clearly or even identify them very well. Neither are able to routinely able to engage in an appropriate emitional manner and can easily shut down and disconnect as a defense mechanism. Both strive to be the center of attention and can lay on the charm when it is of use to them.
The causes of these challenging behaviors are very different despite the similarity we see. One is intellectually disabled and has Alzheimer's. The other is an abuse survivor and on the RAD spectrum. This causes misunderstandings between them.
At the end of the day, Lyn may walk by my son and say "Hi." He may respond with "Please stop." That small exchange can lead to hurt feelings and confusion. Lyn greets you with "Hi" multiple times a day. It can be an opening salvo to an attempt to play. In her mind, it is a safe and effective greeting no matter if she's spent the whole day with you. My son, who's now starting to exceed his aunt's mental capacity, knows she uses it as a play opener and responds with "Please stop" because he doesn't want to engage.
We've worked hard with him to get him to use those two words as a polite way to end an activity he's not interested in continuing. It has taken many, many repeated applications to get him to see that he can set boundaries and have them respected. Unfortunately, Lyn doesn't remember or understand this. She perceives a rejection, no matter how politely issued, and she's hurt by it.
She's still able to tell me that something's bothering her and she can sort of tell me what happened if she addresses it immediately after it happens. I definitely have to listen and fill in details. When I ask my son what happened and he confirms what I've pieced together, I can explain to him that Aunt Lyn didn't understand why he said "Please stop." I can explain that they have misunderstood each other. While an apology shouldn't be necessary for something like this, I do encourage it. It is good practice for him to learn that others may need a bit more compassion sometimes. The apology is accepted and smoothes her ruffled feathers. She offers a one armed hug and then seems to remember that a smile may be helpful. However, in this case, she's not sure what the smile should look like and ends up just kind of baring her teeth and squinting her eyes. If I was little, I might find it creepy and I suspect he does. He won't tell me if that's what he actually feels.
When Mom and I are caring for our respective children individually, these situations are few and far between. When we're together, she and I find we have to help them negotiate their exchanges to keep things going even relatively smoothly. We have to subtly build in time for them to have breaks from each other.
It can be tiring.