Welcome to the dark side of Autism. This is the part where I tell you that not all special needs children grow into gentle giants, this is where I burst your bubble and tell you that special needs children have hormones, emotional outbursts, and feelings they cannot control. This is where I tell you that kids with Autism are human.
I feel the need to say this because of things I've read lately about Autistic kids being held at knifepoint and forced to do things they don't want to do (link to an article that makes me sick) and Autistic kids being filmed and laughed at (link to an article about a teacher and principal who should be fired) and Autistic kids who grew into adults while forced into slavery (link that reminds us to learn from our mistakes). At what point did special needs persons become less than human? How is it possible that there are people out there who can even think this is okay? People DEFENDED the teacher and principal in comments in that article. The owner of the workhouse in Iowa said he was HELPING the men who were slaves for decades. The oldest girl who held the Autistic boy at knifepoint was released pending charges, RELEASED?? How is that even possible?
(Sorry that was off topic but I am super pissed at these stories, all of which have been reported in the last 2 weeks! Unacceptable! Back on topic...)
Indeed special needs people of all ages are HUMAN and as such they grow and mature just like everyone else. The difference is that they may not have the coping strategies to adequately understand their feelings and emotions. I've not hidden the fact that Autism can come with some serious aggression issues, working through them is the hardest thing I've ever been through with my child. He's 12 now and in the throws of puberty and that is not an easy thing for anyone to handle but even more so for a special needs child because they just don't understand what is going on, why they feel the way they do and how to express their concerns and emotions. Cameron cannot tell me he is frustrated. How frustrating would it be if you could not identify and express frustration??!! I got frustrated just yesterday when a pile of papers fell over and I had to re-sort it all. I wanted to throw the whole pile in the trash but instead I just took a deep breath and picked it up. I didn't even take the time to identify, process and plan it, I just did it. Cameron cannot.
So what do you do when you have a child who goes from happily eating breakfast to fighting for his life in a blind rage?
- You keep him safe. You keep yourself safe.
- You identify the problem (if it's identifiable)
- You let him calm down completely.
- THEN you try and work through it.
Trying to teach any strategy during a blind rage just is not going to happen. He can't hear me, he can't process what I'm saying, he is on auto pilot and he is MAD. He just may not know why.
I'll say it again because it bears repeating, this is the hardest part of our journey with Autism so far and it has the potential to be far far reaching. Cameron would fight a police officer if he were in a rage and that terrifies me more than I can even express. Cameron fights against me when he is in a rage and it hurts when he lands a good hit but what hurts far far more is when he "comes back" and he is sobbing because he realized that he did it. Today he was sobbing on my lap for 30 minutes and I cried right along with him for most of it. Its a hard thing to comprehend that someone I love so very much hit me before 6am and worse yet he didn't even know why.
But I'm a freaking Autism mom, I don't have time to get down about it. I had my pity party on the drive home from taking him to school and now thats done, now I've got stuff to get done. This isn't the first instance, our 5th grade year was filled with extreme mood swings and abrupt changes in temper. We have Psychiatrists, Psychologists, a Special Needs School that is well versed in these issues, and friends going through the same thing. Sitting around being sad that my child had a really rough morning is NOT going to help him and it is not going to help me.
Figuring out how to keep it from happening again is priority number one, he doesn't like to be that kid and it's my job to continue implementing the plan put in place by the NeuroBehavioral Outpatient Unit at Kennedy Krieger and to work on being more proactive with strategies to help him cope. It will be difficult but he will need hard and fast rules of behavior and will need a thinking roadmap to help him identify and filter through his own emotions so that he can come through the emotion still in tact and not in a blind rage. This is not going to be easy, those things that we do naturally to calm ourselves will need to be expressly taught.
Secondly, I cannot assume that it is never going to happen again. We have a lot of years left of puberty and figuring out the way the world works... he is going to reach his limit again. I have to be re-trained in safe restraint. I was trained many years ago and the training held until last year when Cameron grew to more than 5 feet and 100 pounds. At that point he was just too big to safely restrain alone. A call to my friends in the Neurobehavioral Unit led me to a class offered by Kennedy Krieger that is somewhat of a self defense class for parents. A typical self defense class teaches you how to fight back, this class teaches you how to block and avoid but not injure the child who is attacking you. That is what I need.
Today my son punched me in the face. I will figure out why, I will help him cope and I will aide him through this very human journey of growing into adulthood. I am not mad at him, I do not blame him, I am not scared of him, I want to help him and I will.