Sunday, April 01, 2007

A Bevin whisperer

I want to be one. This is now my goal.

Bevin can be scary when she cycles out of control. Not often. But often enough to require attention. She dips down into a well of anxiety and discontent. She runs about the house. She flushes toilets--again, again, again, again, again, again. . . . .. She begins puffing, spitting (not sure how to describe this very weird behavior). If you impede her progress in running about the house (and flushing toilets, and puffing) , she is way pissed. Throws things, big things (a toy microwave, a lamp, a vase, anything at hand . . . .). And she is aggressive. That means she hits--me, if she can.

What to do? I love Bevin. I find her charming. Even at her worst I’m scared, but intrigued, interested, engaged. I’ve always thought of Bevin as my wild child. So I forgive her beyond what I can sustain for others.

The basic task: to control her behavior to the point that others will find her as charming, intriguing, lovely, as I do. And treat her the way they would any charming, intriguing, lovely, young woman. I find myself returning to two memories that are weirdly parallel, in synch. Which makes me pay attention.

Number ONE: Last fall, my husband and I visited my son and his wife. And I learned about how to be a dog whisperer. My son’s wife (SW) had rescued an enthusiastic, badly behaved black lab from certain death. Maggie. Smelly, loving, on the edge. SW was clear on these basic principles. Here’s what I remember:
--You (person, homo sapien) must establish yourself as alpha dog.
--Establish boundaries. (For Maggie, she can go into the kitchen, the family room, the hall, the stairs, but not the living room, the computer room, or the kid’s room.)
--Reward good behavior. (For a dog, lots of pets, loves, food.)
--Make bad behavior less than pleasant. (For a dog, this means a choke chain.)
--Ignore neutral behavior.
--Do everything you can to help your dog succeed. This means lots of exercise. Letting your dog outside when she’s about to lose it.
And Maggie was making progress. She lapsed from time to time. But for the most part she didn’t come into the living room and she didn’t come into our bedroom.

Number TWO: Bevin’s first school was CBTU in Salt Lake City--the Children’s Behavior Therapy Unit(at Douglas school on 13th East). Bevin began attending at the age of three. Most of the children were autistic (Bevin never had enough “points” to be autistic, or autistic like, but she this school definitely made a difference in Bevin’s life.) This school rescued badly behaved, developmentally disabled children. Taught them to behave in a way that brought them closer to what the world expects. You attend. You don’t bite, hit, fight. . . . . You comply. This is what Bevin learned, to attend, to fit in. And this was important. The rules of the therapy unit:
--You win. Don’t engage a struggle if you aren’t willing to take it to the end.
--Establish boundaries. The developmentally disabled child (DDC) will behave as specified. Look at me, listen, smile. . . . .
--Reward good behavior.
--Make bad behavior less than pleasant--boring, a dead end. (For A DDC that means isolation, repetition, boredom. For Bevin, that sometimes meant a blindfold, not looking at her, repetition, a timeout corner, a hold to quiet her in publoic.)
--Do everything you can to help your DDC succeed. For Bevin, this means, lots of driving, walks, trips into public places where there are lots of interesting people. . . . . .

Since bringing Bevin to Seattle, I’ve been rummaging in my grab bag for tools that will help the two of us succeed. And I’ve gone back to this twinning structure--the dog whisperer, behavior therapy. Bad behavior is annoying. How to extinguish the behavior? With a a very basic creature--she just won’t listen to reason. She has no reason.

And so? I want to be a Bevin whisperer. She needs to succeed, to be lovable. And that success depends on me--the alpha dog. And she’ll be happier if we succeed. Certainly I’ll be happier if we succeed.


Heather O. said...

Maggie is much better. Have you considered strapping Bevin to a harness and having her pull you around the neighborhood on rollarblades? It's been great for Maggie!

If anybody could be a Bevin Whisperer, it would be you. You go, girl!

SusanS said...

Hmm. The rollerblades might just be the thing at Greenlake!