Yesterday, once we got home from the chemist, Adam was still screaming in his carseat. For this reason, I quickly dumped our bags in the front hall so that I had both arms and all my strength available to get him into the house. In the seconds before I opened his car door, I took a deep breath, willing myself to relax and make sure I was capable of helping him into the house, instead of losing my temper and making him come into the house. He had at this point been screaming for an entire hour so it wasn't unreasonable that my patience was getting rather frayed.
This second of centring myself allowed me to open his door and hold out my arms to him (even though he was still strapped in for his own safety) and say, "Adam, would you like a cuddle?" He screamed again but then looked at me, with tears streaming down his face, and his next scream was just an infinitesimal bit quieter. So I said it again, "Adam, would you like to come to Mummy for a cuddle?" Still sobbing, he at least took a breath in between his screams and this was enough cue for me to feel I could unbuckle his harness and lift him into my arms. The moment I did, he screamed again, but this time he buried his face in my neck as he did so. This simple gesture was a turning point.
Adam wrapped his legs around my hips and through his sobs, reached for the car door making it clear that he wanted to close it. With some trepidation I said, "Adam, would you like to help Mummy with the door?" He tugged on the door so I added my hand to his and we closed it together. His sobs reduced slightly and he reached for the key fob in my hand, trying to press the automatic lock button. I allowed this and then said, "Wow, thank you for helping Adam! That was such good helping! You helped Mummy, yay!!!!" Adam has always responded to praise and this was no exception; his sobs turned to hiccups and he allowed me to hug him close, still very much on the edge but finally calming.
I lifted his head to make eye contact and said, "Adam, would you like a Dumbles? Would a Dumbles help?" He looked at me, not saying anything but at least he held my eyes - another step. So I said again, "Adam, if you come into the house with Mummy, we can find a Dumbles and see if it helps you feel better." There was no response but that was actually good because if I had suggested the wrong thing, he would have started to scream once again.
I limped inside, carrying Adam in my arms and gently placed him down on the settee. He arched his back, just on the verge of screaming again so I crouched down in front of him, found his eye contact and said, "Adam, Mummy is going to get you a Dumbles ok? Dumbles." Adam's back relaxed just a tiny bit and, taking that as my cue, I went into the kitchen to find a dummy. I heard a loud crash and a scream from the lounge and rushed back in to find Adam had jumped off the settee, swiped all of his skittles off his toy box and was turning, looking for something else to throw.
I walked over, took his hand and said, "Ok Adam, would you like to come with Mummy and we'll find a Dumbles together?" He allowed me to lead him into the kitchen where I offered him a yellow dummy, which he refused but accepted a blue one instead. We then continued holding hands as I grabbed his drink from the fridge and some dry cheerios from the cupboard. Offering them to him I said, "Adam, would you like to eat?"
Without a word, he turned and ran into the dining room, tugging on his chair. I lifted him into it and, as he dove into his cheerios, the tension finally drained out of his body and my son relaxed. Realising he'd been hungry, I then rushed between the kitchen and dining room as quickly as I could with a sprained ankle to turn on the cooker, check on him, throw in some chicken nuggets and chips, check on him, grab a plate, check on him....you get the idea. You see, he's not supposed to be left alone in his booster seat, but with only one of me, I had to do the best I could.
Eventually, with a belly full of child-friendly convenience food, the meltdown was over.
I sat at the table with my son, nursing a cup of tea (that great British cure-all!) and took some deep breaths.
An hour or so later, with Chris finally back from work and available to help, Adam had been showered and changed and, as he watched Baby Jake on the iPad, my own tears flowed.
There is always a cost to dealing with meltdowns, in the moment I react and get through it because I have to, it's afterwards that I have the "luxury" of breaking down, finally able to express how desperately I wish I could have done something differently, maybe reacted better, maybe even been able to use one of the strategies the various professionals have taught me as a way of trying to get through to my son and stopping the meltdown sooner.
It's at this point that I always second guess myself, wonder if what I did was ok, wonder whether or not I could have done it better. Helped Adam, and helped myself, coped in the face of the autistic storm in a more constructive way. Every single time Adam has a meltdown, I always wonder what I could have done differently. Every. Single Time.
And yet, I know it's not my fault that the meltdown happened; it's not like Adam gives me notice: "Mother, just to make you aware, I plan to have a full on meltdown in approximately five minutes time. Kindly be prepared with your best strategies, I believe "social stories" or "now and next cards" would be the best method on this occasion. Thank you." Of course that's the whole point and that's why it's so hard; the change is lightening fast and there is no warning. As I've written before, in a split second, the moment between one heartbeat and the next, Adam can explode. A calm sunny child happily riding in his pram one second and a screaming, thrashing tiger the next.
Sometimes, like today, I'm able to realise danger points ahead of time and do my best to prepare him. Today, we stood in the rain outside the car, with Adam still strapped into his pram and I pointed first to his door, then to mine, saying and signing, "Adam, you may do one...two. Then, chair. One, two, then chair." I emphasised it at least three times as his eyes followed my signs and only when he responded with, "One, two, chair" did I even consider undoing his straps. The fact that he then continued by saying, "three, four five!" gave me some concern (is that the number of doors he wanted to open or was he just counting?), but by then I was committed.
Helping Adam walk out of his pram, I held his hand tightly as he opened first one door, then the second. But at the moment I said, "Now, chair!" he collapsed to the ground once more. But I picked him up, refusing to take no for an answer and strapped him into his carseat. Thankfully, today this was possible and he allowed me to do so without screaming. It was a quiet journey home.
But what was different, really? Ok, I tried to prepare him with the steps we would be taking, but he still got upset anyway. Was he just in a different mood today? Maybe he had fewer triggers during the day? Maybe I was calmer because I had prepared myself for a repeat of yesterday? I have no real way of knowing. But still, the second guessing continues as I try to plan every moment of my interaction with my son in an effort to avoid or minimise the effect of the autistic storm.
Will it always be this way? I don't really know. Maybe he will grow calmer, maybe I will get better at coping, or maybe this is just going to be my life and the only difference will be his increasing size and strength. Nobody can tell me what the future holds, all I can do is hope and pray for the best...and always reflect and try new ways of coping.