Monday, June 20, 2011

Out of the Ordinary

My son thrives on routine, on structured days when he knows exactly what to expect and so knows with certainty what he needs to do to meet those expectations. It may sound like a simple request, but it is something that can be exceedingly difficult to deliver.

As the school year winds down to a close, the school day is increasingly interrupted with field trips, award ceremonies and celebrations. These are things children typically look forward to — typical children that is. The loss of structure leaves a void that makes a day difficult for C.S. to manage.

The end of this year has become even more tumultuous than we would ordinarily expect. We plan to move very soon. We put our house on the market a month ago. We accepted an offer on Thursday, signed paperwork on Friday, put an offer on an out-of-state house and today, Monday, the last full day of school, we've had inspections and continued negotiations and more. In short, our home life has been less than routine, too. All of this is intended to offer our children better quality of life, but for the moment, it is a good bit worse.

And so yes, I've been on pins and needles expecting a complete break down or tantrum at any moment. I've spoken to the teachers, given them a heads up, reviewed coping strategies with my son, everything I know to do. And C.S. is managing remarkably well, considering. But everything is relative, isn't it.

I got a call from the school today. They had a school-wide assembly for award ceremonies, in the gym. The space is loud. It echoes and so is disorienting. Children, peers were being recognized and presented awards with all the anxiety provoking anticipation awards can bring. C.S. requested a break almost as soon as he sat down. I'm not surprised.

But at some point, despite breaks and attempted strategies, he obviously became more overwhelmed than he could manage. The school psychiatrist called to report that C.S. said "I just want to kill myself." They soothed, they calmed, they asked him to explain. He softened it by saying he had made a mistake, that he "just wanted to hurt himself." I suppose the psychiatrist thought that would be reassuring. It wasn't.

My son has difficulty managing his emotions. I know too well he has it in him to lose control. I understand that it is quite common for autistic children to become violent when frustrated or provoked. It is something I have witnessed — a thankfully rare occurrence, but that terrible tantrum, his tightened fists, and his wail has imprinted upon me the most unforgettable images and sensations. As my son grows older, stronger and capable of so many more things, what he might do should he lose control frightens me.

He has never hurt anyone. He has never hurt himself. He has also never said it quite this way either. At the beginning of last school year, at our family breaking point, what he said was "I just wish I was dead." It was this death wish that encouraged me and emboldened me to make a tremendous change. I've spent almost 2 years now enacting so many changes. But here he is saying, "I want to kill myself."

Do I believe him? Do I take this statement seriously? Or is he just "saying something" as I've heard the school psychiatrist suggest? I couldn't help but notice that she backed away from being so dismissive this year.

But yes, what he said, I take very seriously, with immense gravity. After all, after everything that we have done, after the strategies and preventions and crutches we have propped him up with, that we can still arrive at a breaking point and end up there — it is deeply upsetting.

Silver Lining: The school called. They took him seriously this time. There was a special educator available to address his needs immediately. I was able to come to him just as quickly. Together, we turned his day around. And then, he participated FULLY in a class party that involved games, relay races, water balloon tosses and then a water squirter melee. He lost a relay, got his clothes wet — and he enjoyed every last minute of it! For a kid with sensory issues like him, this was nothing shy of ASTOUNDING to me!!

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