Thursday, February 8, 2007

The Wanderer

...Yeah I'm the type of guy that likes to roam around
I'm never in one place I roam from town to town...
-from The Wanderer, Dion, 1961

We used to have elopement issues with Buddy Boy. Anytime there was a chance to run, he took it. He'd escape from the house and run thru the neighborhood, which we ended up solving by using keyed dead bolts (which were against code, but hey, we weren't selling the house, and they served a greater good). He also used to escape from us in public whenever he had the chance. Whether we were at a park, museum, aquarium, Disney World, wherever. If he could get his hand out of one of ours for 2 seconds, he was gone.

Fortunately, over the last year this behavior has pretty much extinguished itself. Once in a while he'll leave us, but it's pretty much now because there's something really interesting that he wants to see, not running for the sheer joy of running and playing "chase me".

Unfortunately, over the last couple of months a new issue has come up. Buddy Boy used to sleep thru the night (but never past 6:00 am, no matter what time he was put to bed). Lately he's been getting up in the middle of the night, wandering thru the house, and then going back to sleep in another room. Usually this means the living room or family room. Sometimes he has come into our bedroom, but then we immediately take him back to his own bedroom, so he has stopped coming there. We asked him why he does this, and he said that he just couldn't sleep. He also said that the plastic mattress cover made too much noise. We got him a new padded mattress cover that seemed to help, but in a week he was back to wandering again.

As with many things, we used a two pronged positive + negative reinforcer strategy. We gave him gum (which he loves) if he woke up in his own bed, and took away things he liked (stuffed toys, building materials) if he didn't. While we've had some success with this, it doesn't seem to be decreasing the behavior any further (we're at about twice/week at this point).

We hadn't adjusted any of his meds in the recent past, so we didn't think it was a medication effect (unless he had "grown out" of his current dose and needed to increase it). So we tried giving him Melatonin at night, which helped get him to sleep, but then he would still get up later. We tried upping his Guanfacine dose, which only left him sleepy during the day. So we've taken to giving him a "top off" dose of Melatonin when we get him up at 10:00 pm or so to go to the bathroom, but even that has had limited success.

I don't really care about the wandering, per se, but about safety issues if he gets into something. Lately he's also taken to trying to disassemble things (like the clothes dryer) and engaging in one of his favorite activities, water play (which flooded the bathroom one early morning).

On the one hand I'm caught in the present, and looking for concrete ways to keep him safe at night (short of having him move into our bedroom, or one of us moving into his). On the other hand, I wonder and worry about what it means in a greater sense for his life. Is Buddy Boy destined to wander his whole life? Or will there be someone there to guide him if needed once we're gone, and supports in place to keep him safe and as independent as possible?

Only time will tell. Until then he'll wander, and we'll try to keep up, keep him safe, and teach him to keep himself safe.

Joe is 209 :)


abfh said...

Maybe you could tell Buddy Boy that if he can't sleep, it's OK to play with his toys or read a book, but he can't disassemble anything or do any water play unless you are awake and he has asked for permission first.

Whether or not he wakes up in his own bed shouldn't be the main issue. There's no harm done if he falls asleep on the sofa, after all.

Club 166 said...

Thanks, abfh. I appreciate you taking the time to weigh in on this.

I'm not really worried where Buddy Boy wakes up. I always try to not pay attention to things that aren't important. It's just that if he stays in his room, I know he's safe. It's really impossible to child proof the whole house.

And when he's interested in something, there's no stopping him from investigating. We'll catch him at something, and he'll say, "Oh, I forgot", or "Oh, I just wanted to wash this stuff off".

At this point he is capable of controlling himself somewhat when we're in the same room (which is a big improvement from before!). And I'm confidant that eventually, with maturity, he'll be much more able to control himself and keep himself safe. But he's not there yet.

abfh said...

I know this is a safety issue, but looking at it from the point of view of a child (especially an autistic kid who tends to think literally) it might not seem that way. Because he is getting rewards or punishments based on whether he wakes up in his own bed, that's going to be what he focuses on. His reasoning will go something like this: "If I wake up in my bed, I won't get in any trouble. Therefore, it's okay if I wander all over the house at night and disassemble the appliances, as long as I go back to bed afterwards."

That's how I would have reasoned at that age, anyway...

I know it's hard to explain safety issues to kids, who oscillate between thinking they're invulnerable and worrying obsessively about the least little bit of nothing; but if you don't explain, they may not get it at all.

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Club 166 said...

Thanks, Marvin, for weighing in on this.

I totally agree that getting a good night's sleep is very important.

My wife is stricter than I am in enforcing a 7:00 pm bedtime for Buddy Boy, as he always gets up at 5:30-5:45 no matter when he goes to bed.

We stick to our routines, use music of his choice to soothe him, etc.

Basically, it's a work in progress. Fortunately, he isn't wandering as much lately, though he is sleep talking a lot.