My son is Autistic. That means a lot of things. It means he has trouble processing his environment. It means that he has trouble speaking and using words. It means that he can become easily fixated on particular thoughts or actions. It means that he is often unable to make the right choices. It means that he feels his emotions so intensely that they often overwhelm him. It means that he often has out bursts that are dangerous to himself and others.
I don’t mean to say that he is dangerous, just that he is sometimes not in control. Sometimes it’s because of processing problem like over stimulation, but sometimes it’s because he isn’t getting his way. I know this. That doesn’t make him a bad kid, just a normal kid in High Definition. Most kids get upset about not getting their way and they may throw a tantrum or ten but they eventually can be reasoned with and they learn.
That isn’t always the case with my son. Often he can become fixated on what he wants and there is no reasoning with him. You can’t use logic. His eyes glaze over and there is nobody home in there. Just the driving thought that he wants something. If you can nip it in the bud before he reaches that stage, you’re good. If not, well then, best just to stay out of range and try to mitigate the damage.
There are many times when my son will hit, bite, scratch, kick, spit, choke, throw things, and bang his head. He isn’t mean. He just has trouble dealing with his emotions. After the meltdown is over he is very apologetic almost to the same obsessed level as the outburst was.
Recently I got a call from the school. My son was having a rough day. He didn’t want to come in from recess. Well what child does? Unfortunately my son took then ending of recess rather badly and he had a meltdown. His disappointment was so intense that he couldn’t deal with it. He started banging his head. He managed to bash his nose on the window frame of the low stimulus room where he goes to calm down.
His nose swelled and he ended up with a large welt on the bridge of his nose. The school was concerned and rightly so. They called me to see if I wanted to come look at his nose. After learning the details and talking with his teacher I decided to wait and see.
Does that make me a callous parent? No just practical.
I’ve been living the autistic life for eleven years now and I’ve learned a thing or two. I know that at any moment of any day a meltdown might happen. I’ve been kicked in the face, head-butted, pinched, scratched, punched in the ribs, bit, and choked. My neck used to have permanent gouges down each side that made me look like a tiger had attacked me. Does that make me scared of my child? No. Does that make me jumpy or reactionary? No. I’ve seen a lot of bruises, cuts and blood. Does that make me complacent? No.
It means that I’ve been there and done that. I know when it’s time to act and time to wait. I know that above all structure and carefully planned reactions are the best.
I know that if I go running to the school after a meltdown, it’s only going to make things worse. It won’t change his behavior and it will very likely undermine the authority of the teachers. It will only justify what he’s done in his mind. He has to learn that that kind of behavior will not get him what he wants.
Do I think this was a tantrum? Partially. He didn’t get his way and he reacted. However, the difference is that he feels the emotions differently and he has no way to control them once they hit a certain point. Hence the headbanging. Studies have learned that there is a reason for headbanging. In really weird way, it is how the child can get control back. It has to do with stimulation and chemicals. You can learn about it here.
I know this makes me sound callous, but I’m really not. I just know that this is my normal life. I don’t want it to be this way, but it is. I love my son dearly and it breaks my heart every time he hurts himself or anyone else. I feel terrible that others have to bear the brunt of his meltdowns. I’d rather it was me and not his teachers that had to deal with the pain. I wish that he would never have to be hurt, but that just isn’t in the cards for us.
The autistic life is hard. It takes its toll on everyone, but it hasn’t made me a callous parent. It just means that I’ve built up callouses on my hide. It’s given me a tougher and stronger skin to protect my heart. A heart that will always love my son no matter what may come our way.