Friday, September 18, 2015

They Help Me

"They help me."  This is the sole reason Lyn gave for pretending to not see the rug when she and the staff were practicing getting on and off the van.

Why did she want to pretend to not see the rug?  Because the staff helped her.  Because she knew that by pretending to not see it, she could get their attention focused on her a bit longer.  Because she likes being the center of someone's attention.  Because it feels good.

Did the staff know she was being manipulative?  Probably not.  They may not have been watching her face closely or understanding the difference in what her expression was telling them.  Is that their fault?  Not at all.

Humans are adept, even from an early age, of figuring out ways to manipulate each other.  It's just that, for the most part, we teach each other to be more upfront about trying to get each others' attention or having our various needs met.  We teach our children to say "Excuse me.  May I ..." when they want something.  We teach our partners how best to communicate the need for intimacy.  Typically, we favor open and forthright requests and eschew passive aggressive actions.  We get angry when we encounter adults using them.  As the parent of a teen, my current operating theory about why adults and teens find themselves butting heads is because teens prefer passive-aggressive approaches like the side-eye glare or the Eye Roll of Doom which so clearly conveys "Moooom! You're such an imposition upon my very busy texting schedule.  Geez!"  (Not that I've encountered that at all.)

Before we can master the skills needed to present our requests as one adult to another, we use those skills which are closer at hand.  We manipulate.  Are babies manipulative?  That's a controversial topic and I'm not convinced that an infant crying is an attempt to manipulate you.  They have a need and they only know of one way to try to get it met.  However, by the time they become toddlers, they definitely are learning patterns of behavior which are reinforced when they get what they want.  Perhaps instead of always saying "Please" for a cookie, the child has received the positive reinforcement of getting a cookie when they make a particularly appealing expression and use a cute babyish voice.  Perhaps the child gets what they want by throwing a full-blown tantrum until the harried parents give in.  It comes down to learned patterns of behavior which have received positive reinforcement over time.  Heck, even our dogs and cats learn to manipulate us.

Lyn is no different.  She may be intellectually disabled and suffering from Alzheimer's, but she can still seek to control other people around her to her benefit.  I have seen people assume that her disabilities make this type of behavior impossible.  I believe it is a basic skill that the vast majority of us have.  She can be obvious about it like when she says "Those sure are my favorite cookies" as a request.  She can also be subtle about it such as pretending to not see something.  Who's to say she didn't see the rug?  Who would think to question that?

How can you tell if she's being honest with you or trying to manipulate you?  Her eyes give her away.  If she's being honest with you, there's a loss and a dullness in her eyes.  There's confusion there now too.  If she's trying to manipulate the situation, there's a presence, an awareness in her eyes.  She is engaged in the moment and enjoying it.  She may be a bit more charming than usual.  If you're a man, she'll be overtly charming.  Once you know what to look for, it is easy to spot if not glaringly obvious.

What do we do about it?  Well, we try to correct the behavior or point out that she's capable of doing something independently.  We do want her to keep trying because if she relies on others for everything, her disease progression will increase its pace.  I know Mom gets angry with her and even embarrassed.  Mom will got to bat for Lyn in an instant and on many occasions over the years, it has turned out that Lyn was fabricating stories and working herself into a lather over nothing.  She did it at her current day hab, at her previous day hab and even at work when she worked for Wendys.  Mom is embarrassed when this happens because she's tried to protect Lyn only to discover it is Lyn who is causing the trouble.

At this point, we know Lyn needs help.  We know believe the panic attacks are real.  We also know that she enjoys when she's getting the attention and her "They help me" is her motivation.  It is a fine line to walk and trying to navigate that while recognizing that her reality is different than ours complicates things.

Will there come a time when she won't try these behaviors?  Perhaps but she'd have to be non-verbal first.  Grandma was verbal to the end and could still lay it on thick even a week before she passed.




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