It seems I was mistaken.
My middle son, Alvin, likes to make noise – constantly. He hums and drums and whistles quite loudly all through the day until each and every other member of the household is at their wit’s end. And I have honestly believed, up until quite recently, that this was done for the express purpose of annoying the people around him and/or getting attention. It has seemed even more bothersome in light of the fact that two of us have Aspie issues and difficulties tuning out background noise in order to function. And when my NT husband who doesn’t generally have these issues has also been driven to distraction, I have usually concluded that the noisemaker was, in fact, being a trouble-maker.
Please understand, Alvin does cause trouble. He “stirs the pot” so to speak and will move from room to room in our home starting unpleasant interactions with whomever he finds. Besides making random noises all through the day, he will talk at length to people who are clearly trying to read, nag people about issues on which they’ve already declared their position quite clearly, comment upon siblings’ activities and personal habits, and even harass our pets when he’s feeling bored – all seemingly just to get a response. He also has a tendency to invade other people’s space and to barge into rooms that aren’t his when other people are trying to be left alone, because he doesn’t like being alone. And when he’s not doing any of that, Alvin’s still making seemingly random noises.
I usually deal with Alvin’s anxiety and boredom by going along with whatever social plans he happens to make, giving him jobs to do which take him out of the room currently being occupied by his latest victim, and trying to find books series for him to read. Once Alvin finds a series he likes, he’s a reading machine. I also try and create times when I will specifically pay attention to him and give him a chance to tell me about whatever is on his mind. He doesn’t really require that other people participate in his conversations and frequently argues with whatever they say, anyway, but he has a tremendous need to talk. Still there are frequently times when enough is enough, and I just need a few minutes of quiet in order to think before I can figure out how to meet his needs and mine and everyone else’s. And that’s generally when things like the random noises become too much.
Alvin doesn’t have a diagnosis. I can tell from my experience with Simon that Alvin has major anxiety issues, and I’ve witnessed his temper. I even took him to therapy for a while to try and work on anger management. He has problems with being alone, unless he’s really engaged with a book or a game, so he keeps seeking out company. Then his general behavior begins to annoy whomever he’s with, and Alvin gets defensive and angry. He’s smart and loves to argue, so then the interaction turns into an argument, which with siblings can often escalate into something physical. So basically, the kid moves from room to room leaving problems in his wake. I can actually tell what room he’s in by listening for where there’s a problem brewing in my house, and when he’s away at a friend’s, the house is noticeably quieter.
Once again, all of us including myself have been working on the assumption that Alvin is doing this on purpose – or that at the very least he has some control over his behavior that he’s not exerting. He’s not autistic. He behaves very well at school, and I’ve never had a complaint from any of his friends’ parents. He has at least a general understanding of which of his behaviors are problematic for other family members and why, because he’s been told at length again and again. But it just keeps happening. And I think I’m starting to see why.
As it turns out, Alvin is constantly making noise even when no one else is around. Lately I’ve been finding him humming and drumming and tapping and whistling even when there’s no one there to annoy. I’ve also been trying out this idea of looking at my other kids the way I look at Simon – not assuming he can do things just because others can or because he’s supposed to be a certain way at a certain age. Simon has a diagnosis and a whole string of professionals who could give reasons why he has certain difficulties. Alvin doesn’t have any of that, but does that really mean there’s nothing going on with him? He’s certainly anxious, and while that might be reduced if he weren’t in such frequent conflict with those around him, for now maybe the noise-making behaviors are just his way of soothing himself. That’s how I would interpret the situation if it were my Aspie son doing the same things. Why should he be the only one who gets the benefit of the doubt?
My husband will occasionally joke that Simon is my child and Alvin is his child because of their personality traits, and I haven’t disagreed. (We’re still not settled on which of us gets to claim our overly social Theodore :)). More and more it’s looking like I’ve been judging the behavior of my essentially NT middle son differently simply because he’s not an Aspie. Looking back, I think I’ve been holding Alvin to a different standard. It’s a standard that hasn’t worked for at least two of us in this family, so why should I assume it would work for him?
Just as I’ve been in the middle of writing this we’ve had another problem between siblings. It was typical in that there was really no one person at fault. Simon didn’t want Alvin invading his space, Alvin was just trying to talk to him, and everybody overreacted. After separating them and solving the immediate problem, I told Alvin some of what I’ve been thinking about things that he does not really being on purpose and maybe just being a way to calm himself. He told me that the “not being on purpose” part was what he’s been trying to say before, and I told him I was sorry for not understanding and believing that right away. I’m not sure exactly where we go from here, but just saying that seemed to calm him down quite a bit. We still have the problem of managing the needs of a family member who feels compelled to make noise and the needs other family members who require quiet in order to think and function. Hopefully with all of our needs on more equal footing we can start to make some progress.