Monday, 14 October 2013

...and then all hell broke loose

There are moments in Adam's life when he changes - in a split second, in an instant, in the moment between one breath and the next - it's a transformation worthy of Jekyll and Hyde.  The smallest, seemingly most insignificant thing can change him from a sunny, cheerful, adorable toddler into a screaming, flailing, thrashing monster.  It can be a change in routine, a suggestion he didn't expect or doesn't like, waiting for something a moment longer than he would like to, a person walking into his eyeline, or out of it.  He doesn't even have to know who they are.

Today, I picked him up from nursery and he was, as usual, delighted to see me.  Pumping his arms, grinning, shouting, "Yay! Yay! YAY!"  We walked to the car in the pouring rain and went to secondary school to wait for his big brother.  Through a mixture of circumstances I never quite got to the bottom of, we had to wait nearly half an hour for his brother to arrive, rather than the usual ten minutes.  During this time the rain went from heavy to waterfalls sheeting out of the sky, thundering down over the car as the windows steamed up and we waited.  Even for me it started to feel suffocating, for Adam I believe it was akin to sensory overload.  He began to make his feelings quite clear.  Once the tantrum began, nothing could stop it.  By the time I was sitting in the backseat, reaching over and cradling his head in my hands to cushion it from injury as he banged it over and over again into the headrest of his carseat, I was praying for his brother to arrive or for the rain to stop.  Neither occurred until past the point of no return.

Finally, brother arrived and we managed to drop him off where he needed to be.  It was then a very slow procession home, involving constant judging of how bad the tantrum was and when I needed to stop by the side of the road standing half in and half out of the rain, trying to calm Adam down enough to safely continue another couple of miles.  By the time we pulled into the road leading to our house, my nerves were frayed and then, in an instant, the switch flicked.  Once again, Adam was happy, babbling and chuckling to himself in the backseat.  Suddenly, all was sunny in his world.  Jekyll and Hyde.  

As we pulled into the driveway, it took me a minute to be able to get out of the car to unload it and take Adam into the house.  Once we got inside, Adam was absolutely cheerful and content.  Tugging me over to the piano, he showed me how to play his new masterpiece (thumping of keys appears to be the key factor required) we shared some cuddles and I turned on the bacon intended to go into the recipe for our evening meal.  I went back into the room for some more piano, then as Adam was contentedly playing on his own, I went down on my knees and refilled the emptied box of foam blocks so we wouldn't be tripping over them.  Just as I finished filling the box, Adam noticed what I was doing.  He came over to me and, smelling a certain key odour, I said and signed, "Adam, nappy time."  

...and then all hell broke loose.

The happy, cheerful toddler disappeared and a raging monster took his place.  It started with screaming.  In a heartbeat it became flailing of limbs, thrashing on the floor, arching his back up, his heels down and banging his head on the floor.  His face was bright red as he screamed his rage.  For his own safety, I picked him up and attempted to wrap his body around my own to contain his thrashing limbs and prevent him giving himself a head injury.  Slowly.  One step at a time. We walked upstairs.  As we did so, if it was possible, the tantrum got worse.  And worse.  And worse.  The only way I can describe it is to say that one step further and Adam would have been having convulsions.  

There is one level at which any toddler has tantrums and when they occur, they consume a parent's world.  Then there are Adam's tantrums which swallow it up, overwhelm the world and leave me clinging to the life raft of holding him in the safe restraint position (with the back of his head against my chest, sitting between my legs and my arms crossed over his chest in a way that contains but does not suffocate him - he can move but cannot get free).  I sit and I cling to my sanity as I restrain my child while he screams, thrashes, hits and claws me, bangs his head against my chest and comes to the point that his whole body is flushed red, soaked in sweat and utterly hysterical.  And as we sit there, I say directly into his ear, over and over again, "You're safe.  I love you.  You're safe.  Mummy loves you.  You're safe." 

The tantrum goes on and on and on.  The minutes tick by and my whole world is full of hysterical screaming.  I can smell tea burning downstairs and I worry it will catch fire but I cannot move or leave my son - to do so would be to risk serious injury to him.  So I sit, every time a flailing limb breaks free to hit me, I gently but firmly wrap my arm around him again and keep talking, "You're safe.  I love you.  You're safe.  Mummy loves you.  You're safe."  If he notices my silent tears falling into his hair, he gives no sign of it.

Thirty-five minutes.

That's how long it takes for the hysterical screams to quiet into sobs, for the flailing limbs to go limp in exhaustion and for my baby to collapse against me utterly spent.  I take the risk and slowly and gently turn him around, look into his eyes and tell him once again that I love him.  His huge blue eyes fill with tears and his head sags down onto my shoulder as he wraps his little arms around my neck and his legs around my waist.  He says nothing, makes no sound, he has nothing left to say.  We sit like that for a long time as our dinner burns.

Eventually, I crawl to my feet, cradling Adam in my arms as he continues to hide his face in my shoulder and slowly we walk downstairs.  With him sitting on one hip, I remove the destroyed tea from the cooker, dump it in the sink, open the window and door and start a second batch of food.  Finally, half an hour later than he would usually eat, I take Adam to the table.  Seeing a single piece of pesto pasta on his baby fork approaching his mouth, he begins to scream, tries to stand up against the lapbelt of his high chair and throws his body backwards as the chair creaks in protest.  I sit there offering the single piece of pasta waiting.  Eventually his body releases some of the tension and he opens his mouth just a little bit.  I place the pasta against his lips where he tastes it, then gobbles it and the rest of his dinner down.

As I feed him, I am numb.  I sit at the table in that conservatory and I cannot think, I cannot pray, I cannot dream of  what the future might hold.  I am blank.  My husband comes home from work, sees a cheerfully eating child and asks how we are, expecting a smile in return but quickly realising he won't be seeing one tonight.  Quietly, he listens to the story and takes over in time to give Adam his evening medicine, bath and stories.  I sit here at the desk in our bedroom and I write - and as I do, I can see the piece of chart paper stuck to the side of our wardrobe, left over from a long ago essay on which I personalised part of a Psalm to include Adam's name.  I read, with tears in my eyes:

"For God created Adam's inmost being; God knit Adam together in my womb.  I praise God because Adam is fearfully and wonderfully made; God's works are wonderful, I know that full well."  Psalm 139:13-14

Underneath, in writing that is now fading from long exposure to sunlight, I've written:

"Just as he is."


  1. It's so very difficult to read and to live through I imagine. Hoping Adam will learn coping strategies as you journey on. Thank you for linking to Britmums round-up.

  2. Thank you Hayley. Yes, life with autism and other special needs is hard, very hard....and I also fiercely love my little boy...just as he is. x


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