|Meltdowns and volcanoes are similar. They both|
make a big boom.
We've just come from the park. And it wasn't pretty.
Actually, everything about our outing to the park was pretty typical initially. We had a playdate at the playground, and there were no meltdowns, which I consider to be a successful playdate. After our friends left, Jack and I remained at the park for a bit to finish a snack. Jack went up and down the dinosaur slide a few times and then engaged in one of his new activities at the park, throwing away every leaf, stick, or piece of mulch that he sees. It occupies a lot of his time at the park, because the park tends, by design, to contain a lot of sticks, leaves, and mulch.
He finally got to a point where he felt as though he put a dent in the stick count at the playground, and he came up to me and signed "all done". He started scrambling up into my arms, which is his cue that it's time to go. I picked him up and headed out.
Now, both Jack's OT and ABA therapists have said that Jack needs to start walking on his own and that I need to make him walk. I'm mentioned to both that he won't do that for me without a meltdown, to which I've gotten the response that he physically can and he should. Typical kids have been walking on their own for a while by the time they're Jack's age. Well, yes, physically Jack can walk. Behaviorally, he won't. And it's hard to reason with someone who has very little receptive language. I'm not sure why, maybe it's motor planning, maybe sensory, but he won't do it. I don't think it's a matter of being stubborn, either. He seems terrified, almost paralyzed when I try to force him to walk.
So, I set out to get Jack to walk with me to the car. I put him down on the ground and he immediately started screaming. He started to scramble back into my arms, so I stepped a couple of feet away and encouraged him. Come on buddy, you can do it! You can walk...you're a big boy! Nope. He collapsed to the ground, continuing to scream.
I tried the next tactic, hand-over-hand. Essentially, I make his body do what I'm requesting and I praise him as though he's doing it himself. I hoist him up and, holding him under his armpits, I attempt to make him walk. He refuses to walk and continues to drop his legs. He's dead weight in my arms and I'm struggling to hold him up. All the while, I praise him, Good walk, Jack, but my back feels like it's exploding. Jack thrusts his arms upward, giving me no ability to support him under his arms, and I set him down. The whole time, he screams bloody murder.
We continue this cycle, over and over again, for 20 minutes. We've moved about as many feet.
It's hot outside. Jack's hair is soaked with sweat. People begin to stare and I see an older lady from across the playground pointing at us. I get nervous about what people might be thinking. My kid is screaming as though he's being tortured and I fear that these people are looking at me as though I am abusing my child. If they only knew that I'm just trying to help him gain some independence. If they only knew.
The last time I set Jack down, we've made it about 30 feet away from the playground. We have much further to go. Jack throws himself onto the gravel path and begins banging his head on the ground. I can't take it anymore, and I sit him up. I can just hear his therapists' voices in my head, saying that I need to make him do this, but it's been over 25 minutes. Jack grabs handfuls of gravel and dirt and flings them in every direction. It's as though he's completely lost control and there's nothing I can do, except for picking him up, to get him back.
I wish it was easier.
I reach in my diaper bag and grab a baby wipe. I wipe the dirt off of his face and hands. I try to calm him down, but he's too far gone. He won't support any of his own weight. He won't take a sip of cool water. Other people continue to stare. "Someone didn't want to leave." "Someone needs a time out."
Someone needs to mind their own business. He's not misbehaving; he is autistic.
I want so badly to say that to the onlookers, but I don't. It's not worth it. Jack's not a typical 2-year old. Jack can't self-calm. When he melts down, he needs a maximum amount of assistance to recover. If I hadn't picked Jack up, the meltdown would have lasted another 40 minutes or more. Jack, for some reason, isn't comfortable walking. Physically, he can. Mentally, he thinks he can't. Since he doesn't imitate, he isn't going to try to walk like the big kids do. Sensory-wise, things set him off that I can't even understand. This has the unmistakable appearance of a sensory meltdown. It's uncontrollable.
So, I pick him up, vowing to enlist his ABA therapist's help to figure this problem out, before I do more damage to my spine. I'm dirty, covered in sweat, Jack's continuing tears, and bits of gravel and dirt, we both head to the car. Once he's in, he continues to fret and cry. I manage to get him to take a drink, and he drinks it quickly, sobbing all the while.
I'm exhausted, but I'm trying. He needs to learn these independence skills. I have to help him learn. Other people don't understand. They can't understand. I have to keep trying. Soon enough, he'll be too large for me to carry. I have to keep working at it.