I think most of my 'I hate Autism' days don't actually start out as bad days, I think its more that they are going along masked as regular days that just switch without notice. Then you are looking back wondering, "Jeez! What went wrong???"
Today is one of those days. By all accounts a boring day, I had to drive around in the morning, had an appointment around lunch and then spent the early afternoon at my desk trying to catch up on bills, calls and all that fun stuff that never ends. When I left to pick up the boys from school, everything was quiet and there was no hint that today would turn against me.
The boys got in the car and my oldest talked about the Standardized State Testing he did today, "I did great!" he said. My youngest was happy that he didn't have testing today. The radio was on Pandora One and we were headed home. Thats when it turned. A song came on that my oldest didn't want to hear, I suggested we give it a try and he demanded that we turn off Pandora and listen to the radio station instead. I don't respond well to demands, I turned it off.
What I EXPECTED was that he would get angry. I would tell him that making demands would not get him what he wants and he needs to use his manners. He would then begrudgingly say, "sorry, can you turn on the radio, I don't like this song." I would say, "thank you for the apology, I will turn the radio back on." I expected a no-fault conversation, a teaching opportunity and some give and take. 90% of the time this is how it goes. That was NOT how it went today, welcome to the 10%
Instead what ACTUALLY happened was, after I turned off the radio he picked up something around his seat and hit me with it while I was driving. This was not the first time and I am getting better at diffusing situations like this. When he reaches this level of anxiety and anger there is no reasoning, no teachable moments, no give and take. His communication breaks down and mine has to meet his level. This is very very hard to do when I want to howl in pain, scream at him for hurting me and ground him for a month. None of which would make me feel better and even more importantly none of this would help him calm down, quite the opposite actually.
So here is the ugliness of Autism, the pre-teen years.
- Emotional level and physical age are no where near equal. In all kids this is true, in Autism (and many other disabilities) the gap is so wide it seems unscalable. This year, more than any other, I've thrown my son's physical age out of the equation.
- Hormones are a bitch. The fluctuation of hormones are horrible even when you understand what is going on, imagine if you didn't understand it.
- Hormones + Anxiety + ADHD + Autism + Impulsivity = a recipe for disaster. It's not a matter of IF, it's a matter of WHEN.
- To me it looks like, sounds like, feels like a temper tantrum. Like a 2 year old laying on the floor, kicking his feet and crying and you have NO IDEA why. He wants something, you aren't a mind reader and the helplessness is overwhelming. I can be transported back to that young mother who has no idea what to do in a second, but then I remember... I'm a seasoned professional!
I could probably go on and on with the reasons why having Autism and going through puberty is difficult but, as usual, I've gotten off topic. More importantly, figuring out the reason WHY for a behavior is not about making an excuse (most times there is no acceptable excuse anyway), it's about finding the cause, learning from it as a parent and using it as a tool to help him through next time it comes up.
To that end, what would cause my 11 year old to FLIP OUT while driving home from school?
Did he hate the song on the radio so badly? Did he want something familiar and comfortable instead of new?
Did he want to have his own way just because he wanted to assert himself?
Was he exhausted from a long day? Did it take a lot out of him to do the standardized testing today? Did he hold it together all day, just to fall apart in the car where he felt more safe to do so?
Did he need the pressure and input he would receive from hitting something?
Any of these are possible. Again, none are an EXCUSE for the behavior but possibly an antecedent that I can learn from.
In the end, we did make it home without any more hitting. There was a lot of yelling from my son, mostly scripts filled with "red words" and threats of no consequence. He says he will throw my phone in the trash (I wish someone would so it would stop ringing all the time! But I do not say this.). He says I am "hurting/killing his brain" which makes me think there is a physical pain he is having but cannot verbalize. My response is no response. I hate what he is saying, some of it hurts my feelings but any feedback I give him is turned into fuel for his rage. He wants to know if he will get his "screen time" and there is no way in the world I am going to say NO and risk being hit again until I am home.
We get home and he yells something while he is getting out of the van. He closes his self-closing van door and gains no satisfaction from that so he walks around the van so that he can slam the door I left open while I got the mail. He walked into the house, went to his room (as instructed) and slammed his door. I don't like it, it's not how I expected my day to go but sometimes these days just turn on a dime. Learn what you can, keep it close to you, teach it when he is calm and hope for a better outcome the next time a new song comes on the radio.