For the last couple of years, it seemed that Preston’s loss of temper had subsided. In the past, it would not take much to set him off. Indeed, moving a book from one side of a table to the other would be enough to cause him to meltdown. Generally, though, when he was like that, it might also mean he was getting sick. His outbursts were often tied to his health. I don’t know if that is an Autism trait or not, but it was certainly his.
As he got older, he learned to deal with things a lot better. With coaching from us as well as an intolerance for his outbursts, he has learned to cope with the situations that cause him so much angst. I say intolerance because he had begun to get somewhat violent. And, he is a strong child. The fear of him hurting himself, one of the other kids or even us led us to deal with it a bit more harshly than before. He knows his outbursts will get him punished, either loss of electronics, no friends coming over to play or some other appropriate form of punishment. While this may seem over arching for a child with his issues, it has, nonetheless, helped him with boundaries. And, he definitely needs boundaries. More on that in a bit.
He is a second grader now and has matured a great deal. We thought those tantrums were about done.
Lately, he has regressed back to the tantrums.
My wife signed the family up for the local YMCA. So, she takes the three year old and Preston. My 18 year old followed later. While at the Y, Preston and Xander were in the big kids and little kids areas. Xander played and had a good time. Preston had a good time as well, until…
…he wanted to do the rock climb wall, which was closed.
Preston misunderstood what my wife had said about it and took her comment as a hard fast promise that he could climb the wall. The Y, however, said otherwise. Preston melted down. This wasn’t just a melt down for a few minutes. Oh no. It went on for quite some time. She brought him home this way. He refused to get out of the car. She called me to help.
So, I go out to help him. Find out what happened, that sort of thing.
One of the things I learned about him, early on, is that he needs a lot of physical connection while he is this way, either holding him down, hugging him or simply sitting close to him with an arm around him. It’s a reassurance, I think, that he is loved. He’s never said that, but I think that is what he believes. Any way, I sit on the edge of the car seat and hug him. He almost immediately calms, but not all the way.
I could not understand him, so I had him calm down some more. I hugged and had him squeeze my hands. That usually distracts him and I make a dumb comment about it and he usually laughs.
So, I resort to Dad and tell him he needed to suck it up and tell me what was wrong. The way I said that (and not with those words, but something close—and clean) must have struck him as funny because he half smiled, settled down and told me about the wall.
I reassured him that Mommy would not lie and that she did not know that the wall was closed. And, that sometimes, things he is told are just wrong. I shared a short story about an experience I had (he seems to like that) and then suggested that we go inside for some good old ice cream. That always makes me feel better. He agreed. I told him I would not talk about this incident anymore tonight, but we would discuss it again. He seemed to get better after that.
The thing with Preston and situations like this is that he is quite literal. If I say ‘I am going to jump down your throat and kick your liver out’ he will sit there and try to figure out how I would really do that. I had to explain that it was just a saying…a joke…nothing serious, because, after all, I am far too big. He understands that, but the original statement was over his head. But, when his mom said he could do that wall if it were available was interpreted by him as ‘you can do that wall’. The rest was lost to him. And that is his biggest problem now: trying to figure out what he should take as fact and what he can ignore. He often chooses to ignore and that is just as bad.
A long time ago, we started to set boundaries for him. No more playing in our bedroom. He has his own PLUS a room downstairs he can play in. No more using our bathroom in our bedroom: there is one in the hall for him to use. Things like that. Why? Well, as he is both literal AND a rule follower, this was the start of his education on how to act socially AND deal with a teacher in school. Plus, our bedroom is just that: OURS. It is not his, nor anyone else’s in the house. This also taught him that other bedrooms were also off limits. It was an adjustment, but came through very well. Unfortunately, he has not quite figured out that there are boundaries outside of our house, but he is close. Very close.
It is interesting to see and understand how his brain processes and acts out situations. While it can be problematic, such as today’s problems, it is also a very cool thing. For all of the meltdowns, we have had many, many more great conversations about the stars, science, religion, racing, video games, war and a host of things. Mostly games and science. The breadth of his interest can, at times, be very cool. I often forget how old he is. He asks better questions than many adults I know. How freaking cool is that?
Tonight was the first time he’s had a melt down like this since we got his diagnosis. Let me tell you, it was far easier to deal with, knowing WHY he is like this, than it ever was prior to the diagnosis. I felt so much more calmness in talking to him and not once did I lose my composure…something that has happened in the past. When this used to happen, and we did not know why, it was frustrating. He’s melted down over something so trivial as not using what he thought was the right door to exit Applebee’s. Not knowing why he did was frustrating. Not knowing that there was a reason for this and he wasn’t just being stubborn made it very difficult at times to stay focused on calming him down and not resorting to threats about his toys or, worse, losing one’s composure and yelling.
Tonight, I knew why he did this (but, not the trigger) so it was easier to sit there, let him be him and try to calm him with out getting excited myself. Staying calm certainly helped him to get calm and I was also able to determine that things that used to work, no longer do.
And that is key. Watch, regroup and try again. But, stay calm. His Mother figured out this out a long time ago, it took me a little longer. He also seems to react better with me than her. I don’t know why, it is not anything she is doing wrong. No, she is very caring and very loving, especially when he is that way. I am a little more gruff. I don’t know if that is it, may be he needs a little toughness, maybe it is the father figure (his biological father can also get him calm) who knows. And don’t misunderstand, she does a great job with him. She knows how to talk to him and can sense when he gets out of sorts. She changes her voice and supermom comes out. Most of the time, she can fend off a melt down, which is probably why they got fewer and fewer. Sometimes, though, he just snaps. Like tonight.
We complement each other, I think. I’ve learned a great deal from her…when not to continue a line of thinking, when, and when not to talk to him about something, what battles to just let go and more. I’ve taught her that certain things, even with his issues, just cannot be allowed. The boundaries. And also that it is OK to NOT blame oneself.
Children like Preston are the way they are because they are different. It does not mean it is your fault as a parent. It is not your fault they scream and throw fits in public. It is no one business, even in a public gym or restaurant. Embarrassing, maybe, but not your fault.
After the outburst tonight, we had ice cream and Preston went on to, happily, do his chores and watch a couple of YouTube videos. It was like nothing had happened. And, that is the way with him. After these episodes, all is good. He may have a headache, but he tends to forget that he had even had the meltdown. Tomorrow, he probably won’t remember.