I wrote about the passing of my step-father and DC’s understanding of the situation in an earlier post (Understanding Death is not like a Disney Movie). Not to diminish how difficult it may have been on anyone else, but this was a very difficult time for DC and this blog for the most part is about DC and the way his autism affects him and his life. It is about the way we go about things and the way he handles situations.
I have said before that I do not always look for accommodations for DC – I want him to try everything. There are times when the “regular” way of doing things need to be adjusted a bit.
If he needs to stand in the receiving line with me, then he does.
Everything does not have to be done “by the book” or the way it has been done for years. Adjustments can be made and those adjustments should not be looked upon as failure. I understand that people who do not know any better actually think we can “train” our kids to do everything the way that they think it should be done or the way it has always been done or better yet, we should be able to train our children to control themselves at all times. No, but we can try to help them manage situations and manage the anxiety.
It helps him. I will try to find a spot where his flapping will not cause damage to anyone or anything. Letting him do these things helps him to calm himself down. Keeping him from doing these things to release his anxiety will only cause something more epic or disruptive later when he just can not control himself any longer.
Knowing my son, I decided that it would be easier on him and everyone in attendance, for him to stand in the receiving line with me at the wake on Friday. Yes, it would be a lot of pressure and hours of people shaking his hand or hugging him but I thought that might be easier than having him sit with Doug with nothing to do for hours. This was a brand new situation for him and I know my son. If sitting away from me, eventually he would begin yelling “Vickie*, come here please” or running through (trying to, anyway) the receiving line to get to me. If he couldn’t get to me or was redirected from trying to crash the line, he could have gotten quite loud. Standing with me in the line was definitely the lesser of two evils. If it got to be too much for him, Doug was there to take him outside for a break if need be. Because she gets it, my friend Carrie actually thought to bring him a few Kit Kats when she came through the line.
If he needs to eat Kit Kats in the receiving line to help get him through this, then he does.
I have to hand it to him though; he didn’t even try to open one until there was a lull in the line.
I have to say that he did exceptionally well. I could see that it was difficult but he held himself together. He was a bit agitated but really pretty much in control. Of course, he had to work hard to stay in control and he was very relieved when it was over.
Knowing how much he fought to keep himself together and what his reaction would be going back into the same situation the following morning, I talked with him at length about what would happen the next day. I explained that we would have to go back to that same room in the morning but we would not be there very long before we got back into the car to go to the church. I knew going back there was going to be very difficult for him. DC really does not have a great sense of time, so explaining that we would only be there for an hour does not really mean much to him – a little while, and not very long, seemed the way to go. But as much as he seemed to be listening to me and understanding, I was very worried about the next morning.
On Saturday morning, the family met at the restaurant where the reception would be held later, to meet the limo. He began to get anxious as soon as we got into the limo and the rain only added to his anxiety. I told him to do whatever he had to do while we were in the car – flap, yell, whatever. He did not want to hear any of it. He was in full blown anxiety mode before we even made it through the door of the funeral home. I asked him if he wanted to sit with Doug – he didn’t. He wanted to stay with me, but he could not control himself. I took him out to the lobby to let him get it out of his system – I asked him if he needed to flap – “NO”, I asked him if he needed a hug (more for the pressure than the actual hug) – “YES”, but it did not help. Each time he said he was ready and we went back in, it began all over again and back out to the lobby we went. We were still in the family only viewing part of the morning before the general public came in. For me, his “semi-meltdown*” would have been much easier if it had happened in a room full of strangers rather than just family (if that makes any sense). Over and above my growing anxiety over trying to keep him together, all I could think about was we were now trapped there without a car. What if he just could not pull himself together? I began thinking about our options to get back to the car during the second time-out in the lobby. Thankfully by the third lobby trip he seemed to begin calming down and we were able to go back inside for the duration. Once again,
if he needed to be in the receiving line with me, then that is where he was going to be
and if he needed to have his “Babes in Toyland” book with him, then that is what he needed to have.
He made it through the viewing and we got back into the limo to go to the church, still anxious, but he was able to control himself for the most part. The cemetery in the rain was not easy but we were not there very long. Arriving at the restaurant and seeing that our car was still there made him feel much better, less trapped I think and he was back to his old self.
This was a long couple of days for him and I really debated about going to my mother’s house on Sunday. Once again I did not listen to that little voice in my head and we went. He was already on the edge. Then came a comment “smiles and ice cream”, which led DC to believe there was ice cream. After convincing him that there was no ice cream, next came the insinuation that pizza was part of the food order that was going to be picked up. Although dinner had been ordered and was waiting to be picked up, pizza had never been part of that order. Was this supposed to be funny? A Joke? I can not even offer an explanation about this but not only was there no pizza, but there was not one single thing that he would even think of eating…. That was the end, the very end. He’d had enough. This“semi-meltdown*” was worse than the morning before.
People who are not around him on a regular basis are often surprised when/if they happen to witness an outburst but they happen all of the time, maybe not to this extreme anymore, but they do. His behavior was actually a surprise to the people in the house.
THIS IS AUTISM!*
I have never tried to mold him into someone else’s idea of “normal”. I have spent years trying to help him navigate situations in a way that he can handle without too much anxiety and disruption to others. For those who did not get the memo; there are going to be outbursts and times when he just simply can not control himself. THAT IS AUTISM! This was more extreme than usual but it is certainly not something that has not happened before. He knows what is happening and he knows he can not control himself, which only adds to his anxiety and makes him feel that much more worse. Keeping him from doing what he needs to do to get over it also makes matters worse. Unfortunately he was past the point of hugs (pressure) and flapping.
Then came the full sentence with correct pronoun “I just want to go home”. Asking to leave Grandma’s house is a very big deal for him. It is not something he would normally do, ever. But I got a full sentence with the correct pronoun. I knew he was serious… so that is exactly what we did.
He had a very difficult time the following day (Monday) and the next, especially in the morning. In other words, the mornings were brutal. By Wednesday we were pretty much back to our normal morning issues but not anything close to what we had been through during the days before.
I am sure that in addition to the anxiety of a whole new experience and a very long weekend, he also has many feelings and emotions about his Grandpa’s passing that he is not able to express. We talk about it often and I hope that if he does not completely understand, continuing to talk about it will help him understand eventually.
*Vickie – Yes, DC does call me Vickie at times. He knows that he is an adult and assumes that he should call me by my “adult” name.
*Semi-Meltdown – I use that term because DC hasn’t had an actual full blown meltdown in years. I can only compare to what his meltdowns were like when he was younger and in comparison, this was “semi”. Although I did not go into detail about his actions, it was getting to be very close to the full meltdown.
*THIS IS AUTISM – This is HIS Autism. As the saying goes: “If you’ve met one person with Autism, you’ve met one person with Autism”
*You better believe that we stopped for ice cream on the way home!