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Archive for the ‘Personal Stories’ Category

Is your child difficult to motivate? Does your child have big emotions or difficulty communicating in the usual ways? I remember the long years when my Peter couldn’t talk, couldn’t hold a pencil, and didn’t want to play,  when his only sure motivator was food. To add to that, in his teen age years, as often happens, his emotions exploded with massive dysregulation due to OCD and anxiety. I used to think that the arts were only for other kids, less impacted with autism, or maybe savants. But I’m telling you, I was wrong. It turned out that the arts played and continue to play an important role in Peter’s development. The arts may actually be a part of the solution for your child as well.

How do you begin? How do you lay a foundation for creativity? I believe  that for our family, doing hours and hours of floortime laid the foundation. Now mind you, more often than not, Peter didn’t look like he enjoyed it; he looked like for all the world all he wanted to do was withdraw and be left alone. We doggedly proceeded as a matter of faith. During the long years Peter had almost no language, we did a lot of play centered around reenacting emotionally charged events that happened in Peter’s life with stuffed animals or an analogous theme, at first demonstrating a more adaptive reaction, then eventually as he got more and more into it, letting Peter create his own new endings. It wasn’t until years later that I asked Peter what he thought of those many hours of DIR, and he said he felt like “Cinderella at the ball.” (see Profectum.org for parent training resources, especially the new free “Parent Toolbox”)

Once Peter started using a Vantage, an icon- based augmentative communication device, we added the habit of journaling and reflecting. See this little icon?  I would carry it in my pocket. On walks or outings, I would pull it out, and ask Peter, “So what do you see? hear, touch, smell, taste? ” whatever made sense, depending on the experience.  Later in the day, I’d pull it out again or draw it in reflections, during bedtime prayers or in conversations with his dad, asking “so tell Dad what we did? or how did you feel about that?”, so he could enjoy the experience, savor it,  thoroughly all over again. We would reflect on negative experiences too to reprocess them. So Peter built his foundation of emotional self awareness, perspective-taking, and internal standards at the same time he built his language. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that he put in the hard work of learning language because it was so emotionally relevant to him to talk about both the bad and good times of his life.

If you want to see the steps laid out methodically for building this kind of foundation using floortime and reflections for a child with minimal language skills, they’re all in a book I wrote in 2012, entitled “Teaching Your Child with Love and Skill: a Guide for Parents and Other Educators of Children with Autism, including Moderate to Severe Autism,” published by JKP.

What has happened in the 5 years since then? I would say an explosion or revolution in development. What made that possible was Dr. Ricki, who introduced Peter and me to Darlene Hanson, a speech pathologist from REACH who introduced Peter to supported typing (http://www.reach.services). Supported typing is a topic for a future conference; for now let me just say it is a way to support the child in all areas, and as Peter recently put it, “Darlene snared my fleeting thoughts, enabling my thoughts to get out and stand on paper rather than scurry for cover.” Typing gave Peter the means to show what he knows, such that he was able to eventually transition to diploma tract. Even more importantly, typing allowed him to express himself and develop his creativity with the written word, with the efficiency, speed, and flexibility that icon-based AC could not provide.

His poetry today (see “My World as a Poemhttps://www.amazon.com/dp/1544634110/) is very much a development upon our old journaling habits- he writes about his daily experiences and inner life. It came providentially at the time his OCD and anxiety exploded, as often happens in the teen years. So Peter had an outlet for and a tool to handle his emotional dysregulation in writing. Creative writing has been critical for Peter to process and handle his big emotions, and conversely, because necessity is the mother of invention, the big emotions have been a  driving force behind the development of his creativity. The illustration shows how stress can trigger the amygdala (lower brain) to activate a fight or flight motor response, but the frontal lobes (upper brain) may learn, with nurturing and practice, to modulate that response, especially using creativity as a strategy.

 

 

 

 

Let me show you how this works in a real life example.

Two weeks ago, Peter developed a new OCD. He discovered an extra long rubberband, which he enjoyed stretching and plucking in the usual way. But then he started holding it between his teeth, letting the end dangle like a long string from his mouth. I didn’t want him to swallow it, nor look really odd to others. But first thing when he woke up in the morning, he started lunging for the drawer where he had placed the rubberband the night before.

I sat between Peter and the drawer.

“Peter, slow down! Is something driving you crazy?”

Peter tried to reach past me for the drawer, that crazy, driven OCD gleam in his eyes.

“Ok, calm down. Take a deep breath. That’s it. Come on, tell me what’s going on. How badly do you need to do this, on a scale of 1 to 5?”

Peter typed, “4+,” as he perseverated, “Rubber band! rubber band!”

“Remember Peter, if you feel that driven, this may be an OCD. If so, it’s probably telling you some false thought like, ‘If you don’t get that rubberband, you’ll explode.’ Right? Ok, how about we slow down a minute, and just talk about it first. So tell me, what’s so appealing about that rubberband? What would you do with it, if you could get to that drawer?” Peter started typing about all the great qualities of a rubberband. Always fun to think about a compulsion. After he got his thoughts down, I suggested we play around and divide the thoughts into short lines of verse. We picked out the most vivid vocabulary,   made lists of words that rhymed with them, then rewrote the corresponding lines to get the rhymes  in at the end. After one stanza, I asked another question,

“But what’s the down-side of holding that rubberband in your mouth?” We brought in a little perspective-taking and reasoning as Peter repeated the process of getting down his thoughts, then organized them into the structure of poetic form. At this point, he was already into the rhythm of the game, and willing to continue, thereby almost unconsciously beginning the process of resisting the OCD. By the time we finished the second stanza, Peter’s upper brain was now engaged, warmed up, and had come to the conclusion that cons outweighed the pros and that longing for the rubberband did not make sense and therefore must be a compulsion. So finally I asked, “So Peter, you have a choice. If this is really an OCD, what does Dr. Gwen say to do? That’s right, take a baby step away. What are your strategies? That’s it, put it away and distract, or if that’s too hard, turn the mad dog into a sled dog and use the compulsion as a reward. (We often picture OCD as a big dog companion that Peter has to learn to live with, so we use that image of harnessing the motivation of a compulsion to get work done a lot.) What do you think you can manage?”  We repeated the same process of writing, dividing thoughts into verse lines, creating rhyming lists, and editing.  Here’s Peter’s finished product:

Rubberband, rubberband, elastic and round,

Rubberband, rubberband, sing your song.

“Boing,” stretch, dangle, and pull,

I can’t seem to get enough “boing!” to the full.

 

But holding it between my teeth,

Is not a thing to really eat.

OCD, the very picture I look,

Dangling like a fish on the hook.

 

So instead of keeping you in my head,

I’ll use you to get out of bed.

Mom, put it in my bathroom cup.

I’ll chase it there, and thus get up.

“So, Peter, did you enjoy writing your poem?”  I could see it in his face, the relaxation of the muscles, the crazy, driven gleam diminished from his eyes.

“Yes,” he typed.

“How did your stress level fare?” We use an emotional thermometer, scaled 0-5.

“From 4+ to 3+.”

“So how powerful is your creative power?”

“Very.”

There’s an addendum to this story. Once Peter put his plan into action, and got out of bed, I lined up his soap, toothbrush, and mouthwash in a row, putting the cup with the rubberband in it at the very end, so he had to go through the sequence of his self-help tasks first to get it. By that time, so much time had passed, that he was at a different place in the compulsion wave. It was passing, not totally, but he was at a better point. So it was time for another negotiation.

“Peter, how long do you think you should get the rubberband? You don’t want to lose all the ground you’ve gained, so it probably shouldn’t be too long.”

“Ten minutes,” he replied.

“That seems a bit long to me. How about you keep it as long as you don’t put it in your mouth. If you do, I take it away.”

Peter thought a moment, then abruptly took the rubber band out of the cup and placed it back in his drawer and walked away to the kitchen for breakfast.

So rather than lose control of the rubberband, he decided to hide the visual trigger and not engage in the compulsion at all. It was the best possible outcome. Peter’s choice, to carry out his own initiative, a strategy he came up with himself, that did not carry out the compulsion and therefore not reinforce it or strengthen that OCD circuit in any way, all while exercising his frontal lobes and strengthening his brain connections top to bottom (point to first stanza, slowing down the reactivity), left to right (bringing in reason), so executive function could come online (point to third stanza). You could just watch those synapses grow, and watch the development of emotional regulation.

So my question to you is, could there possibly be anything more therapeutic than the arts? With the arts, the child has a positive means to channel and let go of all the anguish inside, to fully express, understand, and process his emotions, positive and negative. Those brain glitches may be companions our children have to live with the rest of their lives; how much healthier it would be to learn to accept, channel, and transform negative emotion, rather than simply try to squelch it all the time. This is by cartoonist Matthew Inman. Peter and I love this image, which has become our modus operandi for dealing with emotional dysregulation.

dong-combat-your-monsters.jpg
M. Inman

 

 

 

That’s one of the most important lessons Peter and I learned from DIR. Negative emotions are not all bad. We can learn not to be afraid of nor to  make an enemy of those big emotions. They can serve as powerful motivators for development.

 

 

 

 

I encourage all of you to explore the arts as the integrating and transforming channel that may turn emotional challenges into the development of emotional regulation, creativity, self-awareness, and self-esteem. And to make something potentially beautiful and enlightening for others in the process. With art, you can be yourself, at your own pace, and there are no restrictions or disabilities in the imagination. It can’t get much better than that.

Don’t take my word for it. Peter wrote this poem, revealing how the arts have transformed his life. (The poem is symmetrical, with the last four stanzas corresponding to the first four in reverse order.)

I am autistic,
Greedy eyes and ears,
Wet in the rain of sensory deluge.

I’ve been a prisoner,
Captured in silence,
Voiceless and unintelligible.

I’ve been a slave,
Strapped to my obsessions
Ordering me to do nonsense, perverse to my character.

I’ve been a paralytic,
Feet stuck to the street,
People swirling around me.

I’m a listener,
Watching and receiving
Like a peaceful tree. 

I’m a tiger tamer,
Harnessing  the energy of my compulsions
To write one more line.

I’m an escapee,
Flying my soul like a kite
On a string of words.

I’m a poet,
Exploring the world with keen senses,
Sharing with you a bite of fresh air.

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“Joyce, my daughter feels so dumb. She used to think she was ok, but after a year in this honors program at USC, she feels like she’s surrounded by geniuses. She cried and cried. She feels completely inadequate. I told her it was okay, but my heart was breaking to see her feeling that way.”

Wow, did that conversation ever bring back a flood of memories for me. I told my other-mom-friend that boy, could I relate to her daughter’s feeling, after 8 years at Harvard (4 in the college, 4 in the med school). I used to have nightmares about being in genetics seminar and not having the faintest idea what everyone was talking about, or making it all the way to the end of the semester with barely a shred of understanding to get through my advanced biochemical thermodynamics final exam. I recalled all the one-ups-man-ship going on during rounds as a medical resident, the constant tearing down and clawing up I observed on a regular basis.

By contrast I thought of a story St. John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla), one of the most popular popes in modern history, used to tell. During the terrible Nazi occupation of Poland, working as a delivery boy and quarry worker, he was greatly helped and guided by an unassuming man named Jan Leopold Tyranowski.  Tyranowski was a tailor who served as a spiritual mentor in a discipleship program called the Living Rosary, created to support Polish youth in their Catholic faith during the tumultuous war years.  Karol would always remember the humble tailor’s teaching on suffering and how it can draw us closer to God. After becoming pope, he wrote how Tyranowski was “one of those unknown saints, hidden like a marvelous light at the bottom of life, at a depth where night usually reigns.”

And I thought of Peter, the child of my heart who can’t talk, can’t get his body to move where he wants to go half the time, but wrote yesterday, “I fly my soul like a kite at the end of a string of words.” Peter has completely changed me. It’s as if he removed the blinds from my eyes to see what’s really important about a person and a person’s life. It’s not the externals, the wealth, popularity, looks, or even “accomplishment” that makes a person precious and sacred, that’s for sure. It’s the soul within. The one who cares, feels, values, decides, and tries. And that has little to do even with intelligence, social skills, or praxis. The inner seat lies even deeper than that.

“It’s ok, Myra, it really is. Tell her that she and her friends are all plenty smart enough to do a lot of good. How smart you are, how high you can jump, how fast you can run, are gifts from God, why should anyone boast about it? God cares about what you do with your gifts, because that shows what’s in here,” I said, pointing to her heart. “Just put your arms around her, and tell her with all you heart and mean it, “The rest really matters not at all.”

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A very cool thing happened this weekend.

 

My youngest, Luke, was in tears, disappointed because he couldn’t talk Dad into taking him to a Pokemon tournament. He was supposed to have earned the privilege by working on his science project, but had displayed, shall we say, a less-than-optimal attitude about it. So Dad said no. Here’s the conversation that ensued between  Peter and Luke.

 

Peter: Hi luke, sporry about the tournament. You had yyour hopes up. Perhaps next time you can use a point system. It really helps. Just don’t give up.
Luke: It doesn’t matter anymore.
Peter: It does matter. But you vcan’t give up.
Luke: Too late. Nothing to work for anymore.  I’ve already given up.
Peter: That’s blackmail.
Luke: How is that blackmail?
Peter: You are telljng everyone if you can’tg have your way, you won’t try.

Luke: But that was the last big city tournament. I don’t have anything to work for.

Peter: Then keep trying to be better for God.
Luke : What does that mean?
Peter: You live for yourself or for God. Just open your heart. Live abundantly. It is more to live for others.
Luke: What does that mean?
Peter: Like studying to be useful.  you are so smart.
Luke: I still don’t get it.
Mom: I think he means that you should continue to try hard to study well so you can gain the skills to become useful to society and others someday. Is that it, Peter?
Peter: yes.
Luke: Mom, are you on my side?
Mom: I’m always on your side.
Luke: That’s good.
Mom: In this case, I believe being on your side is agreeing with your brother. He’s your big brother and is giving you good advice.

 

Well, Luke went off to walk to church, and Peter and I prayed for him. When he came back, he was genuinely okay. He approached Dad and actually asked to talk about why Dad had thought he had a bad attitude, and what he could do differently next time (believe me, these were simple things, like staying for the whole experiment). Luke actually listened  instead of constantly interrupting and protesting, and then he nodded and was all right. For impatient, explosive Luke, this was a remarkable milestone.

But a milestone for both boys. Luke was always the sheepdog for Peter as they grew up, buzzing and circling ’round, and coming back to report to me when Peter needed help. And now look! As big brothers do and sometimes as only big brothers can do, he challenged Luke to be better, and Luke rose up to it!

I stood by observing all this in joy and amazement. How many times have I despaired of making headway to help Luke improve on his temper and tolerance for frustration? And who would have guessed in all those years of silence before Peter could type, that he would one day be the one to provide the words of encouragement Luke needed to hear at this critical moment.

There’s a terrific app called “Saint A Day.” Wouldn’t you know it, but the saint for that day was St. Andrew Corsini, a 14th century Italian. Before he was born, his mother dreamt that she gave birth to a wolf, who went into a church, and changed into a lamb. Later, when Andrew grew into an out-of-control young man, his mother told him he was the wolf she dreamt about. Andrew went into a Carmelite church to pray, and felt inspired to change his life. He became a famous Carmelite priest and peacemaker. The mini-homily at the end of the story went like this, “We can be peacemakers just like St. Andrew. When we treat people with love and respect, we are spreading peace. When we forgive those who have hurt us, we are spreading peace. When we try to cheer up people who are sad, we are spreading peace.”

To me that day Luke was the wolf who changed into a lamb, and Peter was the peacemaker. Thank you, Lord, for you find a way where there is no way, and your solutions are the best, most unexpected, and most beautiful.

Wishing you all also a most blessed and happy New Year!

CartoonDealer.com

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Peter was having a tough battle with his OCD this season, repeatedly asking for “Target,” to buy swim goggles or gift cards that he would promptly cut up or break. I tried to help him by delaying doing the compulsion, and turning it into a reward that he could work toward by earning points doing good things (like homework problems, swim laps, or chores). What was really neat was how Peter decided to use his hard-earned points not for going to Target to buy goggles, but to buy his big brother a Secret Santa gift. What follows is the poem Peter wrote to his brother to accompany the present.

Goggles vs Gifts

I want to go to  Target
As the earth goes round the sun,
Like eating Lays Potato Chips,
You cannot eat just one.

I love the stacks of goggles.
Orange, pink,and green.
I love the cups at Starbucks there
With the shiny, thermal, sheen.

Marking pens of rainbow hues,
Chips and snacks galore,
Gift cards crisp and nice to tear
From any local store.

If I could go to Target,
I’d see that bull’s eye red.
I’d walk right in, and see the bins
and the escalator ahead.

Up I’d go, it’s quite a show
Of Christmas goods and cheer.
Children running round my feet,
My arm ’round mother dear.

I’d stride right to the goggles
And pick a perfect blue,
But then I’d think, OCD you stink,
I don’t need something new.

Christmas isn’t for buying,
Though I like the fun and mirth,
But to celebrate God’s gift to us,
To rejoice at our Savior’s birth.

So instead of spending points I’ve earned
On goggles I don’t need,
I’ll spend them on a gift for you,
A Secret Santa deed.

In my heart, I gladly part
With goggle-y, worldly wealth,
To offer to my Savior
A better master of myself.

Merry Christmas, all!

snoopy

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Winston Churchill once described his depression as a big black dog that was his lifelong companion. Our poor kids also commonly suffer from any of a number of lifelong “companions,” one big one being obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Bigger than his big sensorimotor issues, speech dyspraxia, or medical issues, OCD is the number one challenge in Peter’s life. He describes it as “the terrorist,” the monster that “assails” his mind and behavior, that “vaccuums” his better thoughts and self. It is his “rate limiting step,” and has the greatest potential to limit his potential.

We have spent an enormous amount of energy working with Peter to help support him to get a leash on this problem. The results so far? See for yourself, and take a look at Peter’s essay below, in which he shares an inside look at how to battle the OCD monster. Though the battle is definitely a work in progress, it is his hope that in sharing his experience, he can share some practical and effective wisdom from his extraordinary team of consultants that will help other families in the same boat.

BATTLING THE OCD MONSTER

by Peter Tran

I was sitting in the car, grinning ear to ear after tons of work earning points by doing homework, exercising, and inhibiting my OCD. I finally earned the 50 points to go to Target!

​I absentmindedly started chewing on my pink goggles tapping toy strap. I guess it was a habit. You don’t think about what you are doing. The strap suddenly broke. I had chewed it clean through!

​By then we had arrived at Target. I felt overjoyed that we made it at last. I headed off to the stationery section for markers. The markers became excellent in my eyes because they were like a rainbow- red, orange, yellow, blue, purple, and green, long, good, smooth shapes, all neatly lined up in the box, full of possibilities. I could draw with them- imagine drawing Peter, good and successful. I could draw my favorite foods like meat, doughnuts, seaweed, and hotdogs, which make me happy. Mom doesn’t let me eat those often, so drawing them would be another way to enjoy them. I just drew myself eating a donut with rainbow sprinkles and a hotdog. I imagined it would taste heavenly, the hotdog hot and salty, and the donut soft and sweet. Drawing and imagining are great ways to enjoy something without doing it. Maybe I can do this with my compulsions.

​Anyway, I did get my box of markers. As I picked it off the shelf and held it in my hand, I felt very satisfied. Ahh! Just like scratching an itchy part. Unfortunately, my peaceful content did not last. I suddenly remembered I had ruined my pink goggles in the car. That made me feel like sharp, jagged red and orange lines!

​I pulled Mom up to the second floor. I knew just where the goggles were. I got a pink pair off the rack. I felt joyful that I could replace my treasure.

​But a nagging feeling lurked. Which prize would I buy? Fast disappearing was my victory. Instead I had a dilemma. What would I do? I wished I had not destroyed my goggles.

​At the check-out, I first put the goggles in the discard cart. The clerk checked me out. Unfortunately, I couldn’t move. How could I leave without the goggles? I needed those. I grabbed them back. The girl rang up a refund for the markers, and handed Mom the change. But then I couldn’t leave without the markers! Mom finally decided to buy both, and let me have one now, and earn the other. So she asked, “Which one do you want now, Peter?” I couldn’t decide. I grabbed the markers because they were my first love, and Mom whisked away the goggles in her purse.

​Unfortunately, all was not well. The markers didn’t fill my heart. I put some in my metal box where I keep my treasures and others in a plastic bag, but nothing felt right. Mom told me you cannot be satisfied with what can never satisfy. Truly, OCD can never be satisfied. It’s like a bottomless pit. Great was my disappointment. Instead of learning my lesson, my OCD found a new object. I ran around the house looking for the pink goggles. But Mom had hidden them well. They were not in her purse. I carried on for hours, insisting on going back to Target for another pair. But Mom said, “No, you must earn another 50 points.” I hounded her, but she held firm. Dad told her to take a break from me, so I lost her for the night, and with her, my best friend.

​I fussed all night, and continued badgering everyone the next day, but it didn’t help. What finally worked was writing this essay. I earned all my points, and got my pink goggles. Best of all, I got to be with Mom. And my OCD felt tamed. I didn’t feel as crazy.

​Unfortunately, that was just one battle. The “Target OCD” kept rearing its ugly head. I kept destroying goggles in less and less time, earned points frantically to go to Target to replace them, and then would start over again. Going to Target and buying goggles was not as satisfying as I hoped, and the satisfaction lasted for a shorter and shorter periods of time. By the time I was back in the car returning home, I was already asking for Target again. A friend of mine named Rosemary wrote a song for me to sing to talk back to my OCD:

“You’re a big fat liar, sowing doubt.

It matters not to me how loud you shout.

With Jesus in my heart I will not pout,

But chew you up and spit you out.

All you deserve is pure disdain.

All your tricks and ploys are plain.

God is my shepherd, He will reign,

His gifts to me won’t be in vain.”

I realized from my own hard experience that Rosemary’s song was true. OCD is a liar. The brain thinks it can feel good if you perform the compulsion like buying things at Target, but it doesn’t work.

​The sad thing is that reason is not enough to dispel OCD. I am still hounding my poor mother to go to Target. Despite knowing how meaningless it is to go to Target, despite loving my mother and knowing she is right, despite all the suffering OCD causes me and my family, I still am its captive.

I’m in chains, in mental agony.

Going round and round a merry-go-round

That revolves faster and faster.

I desperately want to get off.

My mind revolts against itself.

But all is a frantic gallop

To nowhere.

I can only pray for Jesus to cast out this demon.

I’m Not the Only One

​Tito Mukhopadhyay is another young man with autism and severe OCD. In the following passage (2008, pp. 186-7), Tito describes his experience of an obsession.

​”When I came to Hollywood, I got some new obsessions. One was riding a metro bus to a certain destination, and then returning by the metro underground train to the Hollywood Highland station From there, I would walk back home. It became my daily ritual.

​How strong was this obsession? I felt like I was inside a plastic box, suffocated all day long, until I could take those metro bus rides. I could not imagine myself not riding the metro bus and train, even for a day… What if (I) did not? I am sorry to say, that I would have a temper tantrum, which was beyond my control…

​My extreme obsession with train rides was beyond my reason and control, although I understood that I was being irrational about it. It is the same process that goes on in the mind of perhaps a chain-smoker, who, although he knows and understands completely well that he is not supposed to smoke, is still compelled to.”

​I like Tito’s analogies about his experience of OCD (pp.48-49):

“Those extreme obsessions happened like a sudden summer storm, with its rushing energy flowing within my body and mind. They happened with no definite direction and with a high and powerful intensity, ready to take control of my reason and behavior.

They paralyzed all my

Other thoughts,

So definite were they.

They had them absorbed.

They left havoc

Along their way,

They engulfed the nights,

And the stretch of days.

I heard banging of doors

From my own twisted hands,

Shadows screaming with worry,

Fear or confused triumph,

They powered me up

With a prolonged pain,

With no eyes to see,

No ears to listen.

They left me no mind

To think or realize,

They did their dance

Of some dreamless delight.”

​I think our experiences are very similar. I agree with his feeling that OCD vacuums the mind of reason and other thoughts. OCD often begins suddenly like a torrential rain, carrying the self away like a flood. It makes me feel affirmed to read about someone else experiencing the same terrorist assault. I am not lacking in character or effort. Severe OCD is a powerful enemy.

The Biologic Basis of OCD

​So what does research tell us about the physiological cause of OCD? OCD is caused by a brain glitch. The orbital frontal cortex senses danger, like an overwhelming need to dump a glass of water because otherwise it could spill. The signal goes to the anterior cingulate gyrus which connects to the limbic system, including the amygdala, which generates a huge sense of anxiety unless I dump the glass. Then the signal goes to the striatum, which is the place intention gets funneled into action pathways. The caudate nucleus is overactive in OCD and overwhelms the globus pallidus, which inhibits signals. The uninhibited signal travels on to the thalamus which is the relay center of the brain, and connects to the brain stem and spinal cord.

​Normally, the striatum ends the signal once the person realizes the glass is in a stable position (or the person realizes he already checked the door or turned off the stove). However, for a person with OCD, the striatum fails to inhibit the signal, and the thalamus restimulates the orbitofrontal cortex, and the circuit continues.

Intervention

​Neurons that fire together, wire together. So the more a person practices completing an OCD, the stronger the circuit gets, and the more he feels compelled to dump water, check the door, or perform whatever other compulsion the faulty circuit drives him to do.

​Therefore, the best nonpharmacologic treatment for OCD is to stop doing the compulsion. It is incredibly hard to do, but like everything the more the person practices, the easier it gets. So how does one practice disassociating the trigger from the compulsion?

​Let’s start with an illustration. Right now all I want to obsess over is going to Target. I want to replace my goggle strap. If you gave me a strap, I should be relieved, but I have a feeling that I would not be relieved. Therefore I believe I’m dealing with an OCD. So I’ll try to delay going to Target by writing this essay. The more I redirect my attention and energy into something productive, the better off I’ll be. I am building more mental control as I hope the intensity of the OCD subsides with each sentence.

​Right now, I’m starting to repeat “Target, Target.” Instead if I say “points,” I can shift my attention subtly from the obsession to doing something more productive, to earning points toward going to Target.

​This feels really hard. Every lower brain instinct is screaming to tell me I have to go to Target. The orbital frontal lobe sees no goggles or not the right goggles. The false thought is that getting the exactly perfect set of new goggles will quench a deep itch in my brain. My amygdala is firing fear and danger like mad. I must go to Target or be tormented with this feeling of craving or thirst or itch. On a scale of psychological stress between 1 and 5, 1 being calm ad neutral (no unsatisfied desire) and 5 being a frenzy to have the desired object of the OCD, I’m at a 4. (If I were at a 5, I would be hitting or scratching to get my way). So what do I do?

THE USUAL TREATMENT

​What is the standard treatment for OCD? In otherwise neurotypical people, the treatment is fairly orderly. Taking a bottom up point of view, the patient needs to sleep enough so he has enough energy to fight OCD. He needs to exercise enough to work out unproductive energy. The fundamentals must be dealt with or no success is sustainable. I find vigorous exercise like biking helps decrease my OCD the most. Keeping busy helps a lot too. OCD moves in unless something else occupies the mind. It might move in anyway but a blank mind is an invitation.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

The first step identifying the problem. Some people can recognize they are getting upset when their hearts beat fast, they are breathing faster, or if they get getting clammy hands. I’ve never had much body awareness. I rely on my mom or aide to remind me of when I look upset. Then I try to see the reason. For example, yesterday, I frantically wanted to cut a rectangular piece out of my brother’s box of asthma medicines. It had a bright green stripe on it that I had to get a piece of. My mom stopped me, and asked, “Peter, is this a legitimate desire? Does it make any sense?” Only then did I realize I was facing an OCD.

​Then the patient learns coping skills to deal with the anxiety accompanying the obsession. Deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and meditation often reduce anxiety. Once my OCD was really intense because we had just moved into a new house (stress may worsen OCD). Mom turned on my favorite rumba song. As we danced the rumba, my OCD anxiety melted considerably.

​Next the patient learns self-CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy. He learns to identify the false thought, and replaces it with a memory of real experience or truth. Then he thinks of alternative behaviors besides doing the obsession, maps out. The probable consequences, and chooses the best distraction. Over time the obsessive impulses diminish. Once I had an OCD about buying orange gift cards and cutting them up. I thought I had to do it or die. I realized the truth was that I was not in any real danger, and cutting up the gift card was wasteful, like cutting up money, so I changed my compulsion. Instead of cutting up the money part, I just cut up the tag. That took the fun out of it. Soon it stopped. That OCD went away.

Exposure Response Prevention

The best way to get rid of a more stubborn OCD is to take the offensive and do ERP, exposure response prevention. That is when you purposefully expose yourself to an OCD trigger, but don’t do the compulsion. Repeatedly do this with stronger and stronger exposures till you lose the desire to do the compulsion. Once I used this method on a compulsion to dump glasses of water. I sat in front of a glass of water for longer and longer periods of time inhibiting the desire to dump the water till I no longer had the habit. Repeated practice disassociating the trigger of the glass of water from the ritual of dumping it made that OCD so weak that I extinguished it.

​I used to clean off my utensil and plate between servings, although I knew I would eat more. I felt I had to do so because my food would look and taste better in a clean dish. Putting a new serving of food in a used dish would make the new food accidentally dirty, but I realize that the new food doesn’t get harmed. Also cleaning off my dish and utensils between servings had a downside. My napkin got soiled. So I made myself eat a new serving off of my old dishes over several meals. It took effort at first not to wipe my plate and utensils constantly, but got easier pretty fast. It only took me a few days to conquer that one.

​Neurotypical people use this ERP method systematically. They make a list of OCDs from easiest to hardest to resist. They do ERP for the weaker OCDs and work their way up the list, celebrating each victory as their inhibition grows stronger and the OCD grip on their life grows weaker. Once they are done with the list, they remain vigilant for new OCDs, squashing them as soon as they pop up while they are still weak.

STEPPED UP TECHNIQUES FOR HARDER CASES

​Uneasy Truce

In people with autism you might not be able to extinguish OCD. For me, OCD feels like a direction my brain falls into naturally. So if I extinguish one OCD, another rises to take its place. If I tried to extinguish every compulsion I think my brain would keep looking for something to obsess about. So I divide my obsessions into “good” ones and “bad” ones. “Good” obsessions are ones I can use as “sled dogs,” meaning still live productively with. I explain more about that later. “Bad” obsessions are destructive and harmful. I live with my “good” OCDs and work on eliminating or at least decreasing the “bad” ones. The situation is like the good and bad bacteria in the gut. Good bacteria crowd out the bad. But it’s an uneasy truce. The “good” obsessions can transform into “bad” obsessions, like my increasing need to go to Target to replace goggles I would chew up. So I have to be vigilant. If an obsession turns “bad” or out of control, I can’t use it anymore to keep my brain from engaging in a worse one.

Taming the Tiger

If an obsession gets more intrusive, I need to fight it harder. Once I was sitting in speech therapy, when suddenly I had a sudden compulsion to grab a green pen I saw in Miss Shohig’s pen can. There was no reason or thought behind it. I just felt I had to have that pen. I imagined taking the pen apart. I had been into disassembling pens lately. Mom wouldn’t let me have the pen, and Miss Shohig put the whole can in another classroom. I tried to resist the compulsion and turned my attention to answering her speech questions. While my upper brain answered questions, my lower brain tormented me by insisting I get a green pen. Finally, I stood up abruptly and made a run for it. My mom ran after me. I saw a row of closed doors. Which one had she hidden the pens behind? I flung open a door and peered inside. The teacher looked up, startled. Mom closed the door and held me tight. She got me to the car. Miss. Shohig hid the can of pens for a number of sessions. My mom’s and Miss Shohig’s determination did extinguish that OCD. Now i can go to speech without craving a pen. The lower brain can be taught, but it may require force, liked Mom physically preventing me from my seeking the pens.

Using Creativity

Sometimes you can try to get ahead of a runaway OCD. One day, Mom and I were sitting at the cafe at the exit of the Huntington Library. I earnestly wanted to work on my obsessive goggle tapping. It was keeping me from sleeping. So we tried some ERP. Mom put my goggles on the table. I set the timer for 5 minutes. The goal was to see if I could not tap for 5 minutes. To handle the anxiety, I turned to writing poetry.

“Closing Time at the Huntington Library”

I hear the soft splash of a fountain.

I hear the quiet murmur of voices,

broken by a harmonious chorus of “oh’s!”

as the baby next table over

had a mishap.

North I see the soft warm lights of the gift shop

shining through the glass walls.

They feel welcoming and comforting.

To the South I see a fountain,

like a big bowl with water flowing over its lip.

I see a soft golden haze behind hoary green gray desert leaves,

fading in a line to the horizon.

To the West is a brilliant blaze of setting sun.

I turn my face toward the East

and head home.

I felt much better. I realized I could survive without tapping incessantly. I was able to sleep better and kept my goggles out of sight in a drawer. I hear ERP usually doesn’t work that fast. It usually takes many sessions of exposure without getting to do the compulsion.

​Instead of extinction of all OCD’s, instead of a cure, my goal is to develop more self control, meaning inhibition and attention-shifting. So short of extinguishing OCD’s, one can shorten the duration of engaging in the rituals. Delay doing the ritual. Engage the upper brain to creatively change up the ritual. At times I’ve used my creativity to avoid bad behavior that an OCD was making me do.

​One time I had a crazy compulsion to cut up bright colored paperback book covers. That included an orange music book of Raffi songs and my mother’s medical review books, each of which had a bright red stripe.

I want you, orange book,

of the bright, glossy, orange look.

The smiling man, Raffi’s the name,

music man, of children’s fame.

Oh orange book

of the glossy look,

how I long to cut up your pages

Snip, snip, rip your cover fair,

more fun to cut than juicy hair.

If I could put my hands on thee,

my compulsion would so satisfied be.

Oh orange book,

Oh orange book,

How I long to cut up your pages.

A juicy slice my fingers feel,

curling strips like an orange peel.

A crisp sound cuts nicely through the air,

as my scissors make a sharp, straight tear.

Oh orange book

of the glossy look

how I long to cut through your pages.

But at the end of my rampage,

Alas! delight is just a phase.

A ruined book, disfigured and sad

reveals the mind gone partly mad.

And so poor book, rather than such a story,

I’ll leave you to your pristine glory.

I’ll turn my mind to poetry and math,

eat my dinner, and take a bath.

Putting Away Visual Triggers and Compartmentalization

The poem shifted my attention for one night, but alas! my OCDs do not fade readily. I kept going after the books. Mom hid those books away, but I found others. The obsession came to a head right before Christmas. Mom and my brothers finally had to pack up all the books on Christmas Eve when I was asleep. Mom left one shelf of books she was going to throw away anyway, and told me to just cut up those books. That compartmentalization really helped me. I see good books she neglected to pack away sometimes, but I go for the ones in the discard shelf instead. Takes some effort to walk away from the good books, but it’s manageable.

Sled Dog Instead of Wild Dog

The strategy I use the most is delay. When my OCD acts like a wild dog and makes me talk about going to Target again, I figure that at least I can use its crazy motivational power to get something productive done. So I turn the compulsion into a reward. Mom tells me I can go to Target if I earn points. I might earn a point for each lap I swim or sentence I write or edit. That way I not only leash but harness the energy of the OCD, turning the wild dog into a sled dog.

Right now I am writing to earn 150 points to buy a new set of goggles. I did a terrible thing. I love to tap on swim goggles. Swim goggles have just the right amount of bounce in them, and they don’t make too much noise. I had chewed through the strap of my own goggles. I remembered Mom had a pair in her swim bag, so I stole them. Poor Mom. She really missed those goggles, as she had taken good care of them for years. When I stole them, my OCD told me they would satisfy the craving in my mind for goggles. But instead, OCD made me chew up the straps (on my Mom’s) till they disintegrated in just two days. So now both Mom and I have nothing. My craving is as intense and painful as ever. I am in no better shape than I was two days ago. Actually, I’m in worse shape because I have lost Mom’s trust as I stole from her bag, and we are both goggle-less.

​Yet though I know the OCD is a big, fat liar and causes suffering and destruction, I still feel compelled to go to Target and buy another pair of goggles. In other words, I feel compelled to repeat the same behavior. Buy goggles, destroy goggles. The only pleasure in the cycle is to bite into those straps. But do I even get pleasure out of that? Not really, I just feel driven. I’m not free to enjoy anything, just a miserable slave. I think I know exactly how a drug addict feels. He would lie, steal, and harm those he loves to do something that doesn’t even give much pleasure anymore, something he hates to do. OCD has no logic, reason, or mercy.

​Once I replaced my Target obsession with a true thought like, “I don’t really need to go to Target. I lived happily for most of my life, going to Target only infrequently. Going to Target only makes me happy very briefly anyway.” Then I brainstormed alternative solutions and mapped the probable consequences. I could decide to get Mom to take me to Target. I might buy another pair of goggles. But then I would be feeding an ugly OCD that gives me no joy anyway. By experience I know this. Alternatively, I could go to Rite-Aide and buy markers. Purple, brown, orange, yellow, I could enjoy the colors. I could walk to Rite-Aide which would burn off some calories. doing something different would stretch my OCD and not reinforce my monstrous Target OCD. I chose the better solution that time. I chose to go to walk to Rite-Aide to buy markers.

​I felt good about that decision. But what about this time? I really do need a pair of goggles to tap, and have lost my other pairs. I’m only a few points away from earning another trip to Target. Yet I know that going to Target completes a bad circuit and reinforces it. Maybe I can stretch myself, but not too much. Once I go to Target and buy the goggles, I will set myself a target date of making the goggles last at least two weeks before I let myself go to Target again.

I did actually make it for 10 days without destroying my goggle straps . That was a big improvement for me because at my peak of OCD intensity, I was destroying new straps before the day was done. I think the knowledge that I wasn’t going to Target for 14 days helped my lower brain to rein in. I had four more days to wait, but did survive.

 

Unfortunately, when I did make it to Target, I blew it. I bought a pair of goggles but destroyed them kind of immediately. I didn’t get much pleasure out of it either. At first I felt discouraged with my failure. Then I realized I can learn from my mistakes. I realized I need to set a firm limit on this Target OCD. I made it for ten days without destroying my goggles before. Next time I earn goggles, I will tell my lower brain that I can’t go to Target again for ten days at least.

Keys to Success

I realize OCD has a positive side. The Frostig Center published a study on kids with learning disabilities. The kids who grew up to be most successful had six characteristics. First, they had good self-awareness. In battling OCD, the first step is to realize you are having an OCD, and need to resist giving in. Second, successful kids knew how to set goals. You get lots of practice thinking up different things to do instead of the crazy compulsion. That’s setting a goal. Whenever I turn my “mad dog” OCD into a “sled dog” reward, I’m also setting a goal. Third, you have to be proactive and actually do what you planned to delay, change up, or not do a compulsion; proactivity is another characteristic.

Fourth, successful kids had good skills coping with emotions. When fighting OCD, you get plenty of practice with deep breathing and talking to yourself. Fifth, successful kids had perseverance. All those repetitive thoughts give lots of opportunity to become persevering fighting them. Finally successful kids were good at creating and using support networks. I could never survive OCD without teamwork. My mom and tutor, Belinda, help me all the time. It’s love that makes it possible to fight OCD. It’s hard enough to fight it with loving support; without it, the constant struggle would be impossible to keep up.

 

So despite the pain and suffering it causes, I guess OCD can actually be a training ground for success.

 

I thought you had no purpose,

I thought you were my bane,

But without you Target OCD,

What motivation would I rein?

 

Instead of being Wild Dog,

I made you, Sled Dog, run.

By earning points for sentences,

My essay now is done.

 

References

 

Mukhopadhyay, Tito. (2008) “How Can I Talk If my Lips Don’t Move?” New York: Arcade Pub.

Raskind, M.H., Goldberg, R.J., and Higgins, E.L. (November 2003) ‘Predictors of Successful Individuals with Learning Disabilities, A Qualitative Analysis of a Twenty Year 501

Longitudinal Study, ‘Learning Disabilities Research and Practice,’ Vol. 18, Issue 4, 11/03, pp. 222-236

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dong-combat-your-monsters.jpg

 

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Hard getting out of the car.

My feet felt reluctant as

I dragged myself into the gardens.

My mind was full of start and stops,

jerky, telling me I had to

jot down endless words.

Mom said, “Come on! Ten steps

and I’ll help you spell the next one.”

I knew she was trying to help me move,

but my feet kept stopping.

I had to keep jotting.

Then she challenged me,

“If we get to the top of the hill,

we can sit down!”

Off she went, striding ahead,

I got going… I had a goal…

Felt good to move those legs,

breathe in the soft late afternoon air,

golden, then rosy, then gray.

The obsessions lifted

as my feet picked up.

The canopy above was dark and green.

The forest dampened the noise

in my spirit.

We made it to the top.

I sat by a fountain, tinkling water,

white foam decorating the edges.

Mom turned on music,

“Fields of Gold.”

I got up to dance.

“Slow, quick, quick,”

the rhythm of the dance

phased in and out.

It carried me out of my OCD

like a gentle wave.

The late afternoon turned to twilight,

and darkness was descending fast.

We hurried down into the darkening forest.

As we exited the gate,

something seized me.

“Target,” I had to

“Walk to

Target.”

Mom sat me down on the curb.

We googled the distance.

Ten miles, 3 hours, 8 minutes.

To earn points for a trip to the store,

I did grammar,

sentence after sentence of

pronouns, past participles, and commas.

Night descended.

Too dark to see.

“Let’s go home to earn some more points, Peter,” said Mom.

So I got into the car.

We drove home to a tasty dinner.

Another day

dodging

OCD.

by Peter Tran

What’s it like to live with OCD? Yesterday Peter wrote this reflection at the end of the day. It describes the stuttering of the stop-go switch in the basal ganglia as he tried to walk into Descanso Gardens. Then Peter tried to cope with a set of words  obsessively echoing in his mind by writing them down. We finally got him going up the hill at a good clip by using his desire to sit down at a favorite spot, and broke his bondage for a brief moment with the natural beauty and peace of the gardens and with ballroom dancing at the top of the hill (music from my iphone).  Sadly, the relentless OCD assailed him again at the exit with a crazed obsession to walk all the way to Target. As Peter would not enter the car, we tried earning access points by doing grammar practice sentences, as an attempt to reengage the frontal lobes. It did work, along with natural hunger and the dark of night, to see the reason in getting into the car to return home.

OCD is not something we can conquer, but we try to get around it by “living” in the space between obsessions. Not an easy dance.

Please pray for us, and for all families living this struggle.

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It was another one of those difficult mornings. Took me over an hour to wake up Peter and get him out of bed. He spent a long time in the bathroom, and when I went to check on him, I caught him unrolling large amounts of toilet paper again. As I rushed forward to stop him, he threw it all down the toilet and flushed it (one of his compulsions). The only thing he ate of his breakfast was plain bread, leaving his nutritious egg, fruit, and peanut butter behind. I was the last of the family to dash into the family car as I had to brush stains off his laundry before they settled in.

So I felt frustrated, as I waited for him to get himself out of the car. The rest of the boys leaped over the seat to get out of car, as they couldn’t get past Peter. Once he managed to get himself out of the car, he walked slowly toward the church, dragging on my arm. The other boys ran ahead to meet up with us later. Then Peter suddenly froze, getting stuck in the middle of the driveway. Fortunately, we were so late by then that there were no cars coming. I tugged and towed him safely to the sidewalk. “Well, Peter,” I said, trying to count my blessings, “it was good that you finally thought of setting the timer to get out of the bathroom. And you did get out when it went off!” Peter brightened a little, and tried to pick up his feet a bit faster.

Oops! Once we were seated in the pews, I noticed Peter tapping the pair of pink swim goggles that he loves to carry around and fidget with. His therapy team had agreed we should all work on having him leave them in the car when going out in public, to put some limits on the compulsion. I opened my purse to remind him to drop them in, and took out a laminated keyboard card for him to hold instead. Peter looked distressed, but dropped in the goggles.

The second reading at Mass was from 1 Thessalonians 3:12. “Brothers and sisters: May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones. Amen.”

The verse convicted me. I prayed silently, “Lord, please give me the love and grace I lack which my son so desperately needs.”

Just then, Peter urgently grabbed my arm. “Pink goggles, please!” he pleaded.

Providentially the grace dropped into my heart in the nick of time. “Yes, dear. You did such a nice job asking me politely instead of grabbing. You may have them till the homily (sermon) is over. Then let’s try to put them back in the purse so you’ll have another something to offer up for Jesus.”

Peter’s eyes lit up at the affirmation. He happily tapped away on his goggles during the long homily, and peacefully dropped them back in my purse during Communion.

The homily was about how both the Old Testament and gospel readings were about the end-times, and the tribulation to occur before the Second Coming. The priest asked us to contemplate why the Church would use these readings at the first Sunday of Advent, when we start looking forward to the birth of Christ at Christmas. The trials of the tribulation may trigger fear and dread in us, but if we can only trust God and remain faithful throughout them, God promises a crown of life and new kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Advent celebrates the first coming of our Lord as a gentle child and our Savior. In the Second Coming He will return in power and glory as Righteous Judge. But in both, we look forward to his coming with joy and hope, as the gospel says, “… stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” (Luke 21:28)

Also in both, the theme is death and rebirth; in the “First Coming,” it is the theme of Jesus’ story, for the Second, it is our story. The priest made the point that in His first coming, Jesus showed us how to live to prepare for the second. Jesus accepted the will of the Father and died on the Cross, then rose to eternal life. We imitate him with every small death we suffer, from all the sorrows, injustices, contradictions, and sufferings that inevitably come into our lives. Like Jesus, if we accept bear our Crosses with love and faith, trusting in God’s great love for us and obeying His commandment to love and forgive in turn no matter how difficult our circumstances, they will become instruments of our sanctification, as we grow in character to be more like our Lord, more fit for the Kingdom of Heaven, as in the same process we work to bring God’s kingdom on earth. Thereby in imitating the death of Christ, we too discover new life.

When I was younger, I used to rebel at the idea of a loving God willing the terrible suffering we see happening to people around the world. I have since come to realize that though I may never and probably will never understand the mystery of evil, I know by experience that Jesus is my loving Savior who leads me through the darkness, and that the Holy Spirit He sends is real. Peter battles his autism every day, including severe OCD, anxiety, inertia, and impulsivity. We get through it by constant prayer for God’s help, offering up our struggles, and each time, the Holy Spirit has sent that burst of inspiration and grace that has gotten us through, albeit sometimes just barely.

So I thanked God for the grace He gave me at Mass, to be able to give Peter the encouragement he needed to keep trying. Reminding him of his successes with the timer and in asking for instead of grabbing the goggles were little acts of love, but sufficed to get us out of two bad situations. Imagine variations of this scene repeated over and over hundreds and thousands of times, and you have a pretty good idea of how Peter and I get through life with autism. We live by faith, we live by prayer. These are essential to our survival. But this is how Peter has managed, sometimes barely, to live a life above and beyond his disabilities. It is through faith that Peter can write his Thanksgiving poem (see previous post) from the sincerity of his heart.

But it isn’t easy. At times the relentless assaults of OCD, anxiety, and inertia feel overwhelming. You get exhausted. The joy of the Cross is sometimes the only thing you and your child may have to fall back on.

The other day, Peter was exhausted from battling one OCD after the next. He had been cutting up the covers of my medical journals. Right after we finished talking about how that was a destructive thing to do, and how he might come to me for help next time he felt that compulsion, I found his little brother’s newly purchased book cover cut up into pieces. “What happened?” I asked Peter.

“I’m no sissy. I rebel,” he typed. ” I feel tired of resisting my lower brain. why should I always have to fight? I feel hemmed in.” He went on to explain how he decided he was like Elsa in “Frozen” and had decided to “let it go.” He told me that Elsa spent all her energy repressing her true nature, and finally felt better after letting it loose. But when I asked him what Elsa’s true nature really was, he admitted she was kind and gentle, and that he wanted to be that way too. I asked him what finally helped Elsa live out her true nature and learn to control and transform her destructive powers, and he said, “Love and learning not to be afraid of herself.” So true, I thought, but not quite as easily done as portrayed by Disney.

Love does transform bad into good, but it doesn’t happen in an easy, sudden, painless way, like in the Disney version. Jesus showed us the way, and it’s the Way of the Cross. How do we get through speech therapy without grabbing the green pens Peter is obsessed with? How do we walk past a bottle of soda that Peter longs to pour down the sink as part of his dumping compulsion? How do we get up out of the chair to start gymnastics when the body feels completely stuck? How do we make it through passing period at school or through a crowded shopping mall when the senses feel so flooded that one arm is over his eyes, and the other is gripping my shoulders for dear life? We pray and offer it up. Each time Peter offers up the terrible anxiety of delaying a compulsion or the massive effort required to get his body to move and do what he needs to do, he dies another small death. But this is how he improves. This is how he has built up the self control needed to live a functional and productive life, integrated in the community. This is how he has built the perseverance and courage that mark his character. How he has built his reliance and faith in God. The Way of the Cross has truly given him life, and whatever freedom he has from the slavery of his terrible disabilities.

So we thank Jesus for his sacrifice. Without His tremendous example of loving self-sacrifice and trusting obedience to the Father, His eternal spring of grace, and empowering invitation to offer up our sacrifices in union with His on the Cross, where would we be? The Way of the Cross has been Peter’s strategy on the battlefield, the grace of the Lord his armor. And where would I be? I certainly would not have it in me to be his armor bearer and adviser. Where would I get the creative ideas to inspire him, to encourage when feeling discouraged, or be gracious when tired? Self pity is my default. It has been my great privilege to witness the power of the Holy Spirit instead. Thank God for our Lord who searches for us, lifts us out of the crevices and chasms we fall into, and carries us lovingly upon His strong shoulders.

So each morning upon awakening, Peter and I think of all the people we know who need our prayers, and offer up the struggles we are likely to encounter for them, and for “all the intentions of Thy Sacred Heart, in union with the celebration of Holy Mass throughout the world” (words from the Morning Offering). “May we too learn to turn all circumstances and events of our lives into occasions of loving you, and serving the Church, Roman Pontiff, and all souls with joy and simplicity, lighting up the pathways of this earth with faith and love” (words from a prayer card to the saints). These prayers have given meaning to our suffering, and hope and purpose to our lives.

And joy. Because as members of the body of Christ, He invites us to unite our sufferings with His upon the Cross for the good of souls.[1] What’s more, we know that faith, trust, and love for Jesus despite adversity more profoundly comforts Him on the Cross than anything we could offer in the midst of our blessings. As Peter said, at the end of our conversation about Frozen, “I am absolutely certain that I want to be like the loving Jesus… thanks for reminding me, Mom.”

Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus, as we enter this season of Advent with joyful hope and glad faith.

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[1] 1 Peter 2:15, Romans 12:1, Col 1:24

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