As a parent, we have all experienced it: the dreaded meltdown. You know the kind. Like when your child starts crying about something that might be out of your control or because they can’t find the right toy or you know what–just because. The thing is that most children stop having meltdowns right around preschool or kindergarten. For autistic children, this often lasts way longer than that and can occur into adulthood.
Ryan’s crying episodes are much less frequent. I think that some of that may be due to maturity but also now that we explain everything to him so that there are almost no surprises (other than the unforeseen things that may come up). Since Ryan’s letter board skills have taken off, we have had more insight into this area. Let me explain…
The first weekend that we were here, we drove over 3 hours to get to friends of ours son’s first birthday party. Grace and Ryan were great the entire trip. We got to the party and met some families and sat down to have some food. It was a bit loud. There were a lot of toddlers. It was a typical birthday party. I met another parent who had a five year old autistic son. We talked for a bit and then I asked Ryan if there was anything that he wanted to say to her. He spelled ABOUT RPM IT HAS BEEN LIFE CHANGING FOR ME. I asked him if he had anything else to say. YES. NOT KNOWING HOW LONG I WILL LAST IN HERE. I saw a slight desperation in his eyes so I knew that we needed to act fast. I asked Randy if he would take Ryan for a walk. Before he left, I was trying to finish the conversation with the parent so I stupidly asked Ryan if he had anything else to say before the walk. YES. NEED TO LEAVE.
In the past, I may have noticed small signs of Ryan not being able to keep it together. I probably would have still tried to push through it. He potentially would have started either stimming (self stimulatory behavior like vocalizing loudly or flicking or hand flapping) and that may then have escalated to crying and/or head slapping. We are now able to head this off and that is pretty awesome.
Another example has been pain issues. Ryan has had chronic gastrointestinal issues all of his life. We can keep it at bay for the most part, but lately I have been allowing Ryan to have some items that he hasn’t been allowed in the past due to keeping a gluten/casein/soy and artificial colors and preservatives free diet. (Just a funny quick side note, on the way back from the party we stopped at a Czech bakery to use the bathroom. Since I was still allowing some flexibility in his diet, I asked Ryan if he wanted anything to eat–now mind you it was also a convenience store with pantry items, not just a bakery–his response: STUPID QUESTION I AM ON A DIET.) Well, I think that these infractions have led to more stomach issues again. Actually I am sure that they have as Ryan has spelled the following things in the past two weeks: STOMACH ISSUES TODAY, I AM NOT FEELING GOOD, MY STOMACH HURTS. The thing about this is, he doesn’t always look like he is in pain. He may just be engrossed in behaviors and hard to engage. Sometimes I just notice that he is not smiling as much. Today, we went out to return something to Toys R Us and Ryan would not get out of the car. I finally got him out to spell for me (but there was some head slapping and crying) and he said YES TO NOT FEELING GOOD. Does this communication always make things easier? Not always. Does it give us insight into behaviors and make me a more compassionate person? Yes. With Ryan’s stomach issues, I can carry medication on me too and give him a dose. Usually that helps quickly.
I really wanted to write about this topic but I wasn’t sure how Ryan would feel about it being so personal. I read him the draft and explained to him my thought process about it possibly helping other families of autistic children and he replied YES TO HELPING OTHER FAMILIES WITH THIS POST. I then asked him if he had anything else to add. YES TO LEARNING TO TEACH THEM RPM.