I haven’t written for some time because a lot has happened. Peter has been growing leaps and bounds. He did well on his online courses and homeschooling classes last year, so this year we are venturing for the first time into the gen. ed. classroom, having signed up for chemistry. Between remodeling the house, dealing with family health issues, helping Peter’s little brother transition into a new school, managing Peter’s schedule and helping him keep up with his homework, and acting as general secretary of the calendar, it’s been busy. However, I don’t know about you, but it seems the lion’s share of energy goes into mom’s job of emotional coregulation.
Sigh! The things that go on in the space of 24 hours!
Yesterday, without warning, Peter started knocking his head against the car window on the freeway. His tutor got scratched in the process of holding his hands while I pulled over. When I came out and opened the cardoor to the backseat, he grabbed the metal keyboard I offered for communication, and banged it against his head instead. When I took that back, he reached over and snatched the iphone out of its case on my belt and started banging that against his head.
This morning, Peter rummaged through all the kitchen cabinets and refrigerator, searching for a soda. Finding none, he dashed to the garage, and found one in the back of the extra refrigerator, a forbidden beverage loaded with caffeine. We eventually had to lock the garage door to help him sit down and pay attention to his chemistry school work.
We should be doing chemistry at school, but lately the panic attacks have been so severe, that even setting foot on campus triggers one, let alone making it into the classroom. As Peter puts it, getting through passing period is “very stressful and overwhelming; like a busy street in New York City, I imagine.” Often takes Peter 15 minutes of Herculean effort to literally drag his feet the 300 feet from the school parking lot to the classroom.
Though the poor upper brain struggles to get the body to obey, the lower brain is fast. He dripped oil on the table helping me brush potatoes for baking. He paused, noticing, then faster than I could grab the kitchen towel nearby, he smeared oil all over the table trying to get rid of the spot. That’s OCD for you.
Do you have a child like this? What is a parent to do? Is there any hope to remediate this proclivity toward emotional dysregulation and its attendant challenging behaviors?
I do believe there is. With coaching (CBT), mind-body exercises (meditation, attention shifting, daily regular aerobic exercise, deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation), and a lot of reflection and prayer, Peter has made a lot of progress. You see it where the rubber meets the road. Peter will lunge to scratch, then suddenly stretch out his hands to ask for squeezes instead. He didn’t even want to enter the swimming pool yesterday, but slowly warmed up and eventually insisted on completing his usual 25 laps although it took an hour and a half (we had offered to let him quit at ten laps, but he wanted to keep on going). He used to watch the same movie, Prince of Egypt, compulsively every night, but deliberately took it out of the video player to let his little brother have his pick last Friday because he appreciated how Luke had sacrificed a trip to the store earlier when he was having a hard time. (He’s stopped watching it since.) And the ending to the story about racing to get the caffeinated beverage? He reached for it, but I snatched it out of the refrigerator first. Yes, Peter grabbed it back from me. But do you know what he did with it? He shoved it back into the refrigerator and chose a diet (noncaffeinated) 7-up instead.
Come with us over the next weeks as Peter posts a series of articles about his struggles with sensory hypersensitivities, motor issues, aggression, impulsivity, anxiety, and OCD. His intent is to share what’s worked for him. His hope is that you’ll share what’s worked for you. Maybe together, we as a community of families coping with autism and its attendant emotional challenges can grow together.
And if you’ve got any magic charms for insomnia, we’d love to hear about that too. Peter got up in the middle of the night again. Which is why I’m posting this blog now.