There are no mincing words: having a child of any age on the autism spectrum is just.plain.hard. There are days that are harder than others.
Then, there are days that are just overwhelming.
On these days, we need to remember a few things. One, these days are just as overwhelming for the child as it they are for us.
Secondly, the more in control we are of ourselves, the more safe our child will feel – and be – in our presence.
Thirdly, the sun will set on those days, and the sun will rise again the next. Each day has its own set of issues and an equal amount of grace attached to it.
With all that being said, there are some tactics one can utilize to manage these overwhelming autistic days when everything piles on, no one is there to help, you can’t get a moment’s peace to pee or even think, and it seems like autism has won not just the battle but the war, the battlefield, and the flag.
Banish the Guilt
Even though we all pretend to be, there’s not a single one of us who is a SuperParent each moment of every single day. Sure, some parents like to share on social media about their hyper-busy life that can somehow fit in a craft project, sports, church, volunteering, family night-time vespers singing kumbaya while keeping a perfectly clean house with annoyingly perfectly-mannered children. These glimpses these super-parents allow into their lives are only a little window, though.
Don’t allow these glimpses – or their companion competitiveness – to guilt-trip you into thinking you’re not a good-enough parent or spouse. On any given night, my teen son is coping an attitude about fill-in-the-blank, my daughter declares she hates the dinner she declared she loved last time, dishes are piled up, laundry is on the sofa waiting to be folded, the inevitable boxes filled with stuff from the dining table are scattered like throw rugs in the living room, there are Legos, Barbie shoes, at least one naked baby doll and an assortment of stuffed horses all over my house, the cat has pooped beside the litter box, on and on…
Being a parent of someone with autism is just.plain.hard. There is absolutely no need to add guilt to it too. Listen, friend: you are good enough.
My ex-mother-in-law bestowed one piece of advice to me that actually stuck, and it was this: when a child is cranky, put them in water. There is something about water that calms and soothes a child – and his parents – unless, of course, water is a trigger for a meltdown.
But if it isn’t a trigger, add some bubblebath, some lavender essential oils…stay in the bathroom, play with the child, bathe him…but more than anything, allow the water to work to calm him down.
Speaking of triggers…
One of my son Sam’s meltdown triggers is trash. Straw wrappers, candy wrappers, paper bits….trash. I cannot begin to share how many times I scanned areas so quickly I felt like a Navy Seal for dreaded trash triggers.
For your own sanity, during seasons where there are more meltdowns than not, do your level best to figure out triggers and eliminate them. Another one of Sam’s triggers was his brother. His younger brother had the uncanny knack of being able to seek out and destroy any semblance of peace there was to be had in the house by triggering something with Sam. Why? Because it was fun.
Punishing the kid with autism doesn’t work when it’s a sibling trigger. They have autism; they can’t help it; the typically-developing sibling can help it. Talk with the sibling, discipline the sibling, take something away. If the brother or sister is intentionally aggravating the sibling who has autism, for your sanity and that of the child on the spectrum, you must act.
There are seasons, and then there are seasons. The time around Thanksgiving and Christmas, with all the changes in schedules, family visiting, traveling, and excitement can absolutely do in a kid with autism.
Think about it: you are a child, which is hard enough at slower-than-molasses Christmas. You’re a child with autism, which means you can’t process changes in schedules very well. Add in Christmas parties, school breaks, additional church visits for choir cantatas or live nativities, and you have a meltdown minefield ready to explode.
So, what to do? Sharing stories with children about what is expected of them is a great way to help kids process this challenging time. “Successful Social Stories for Young Children: Growing Up with Social Stories” by Siobhan Timmins is a great tool for younger children, with text and illustrations that not only share 32 social stories written by Timmins for her son, but a blueprint for you to follow to create your own stories.
Build Your Tribe
Finally, build your tribe of people who understand your child and the need you have to just get a break. Build friendships with people who also have children on the spectrum, preferably people who have older children who have autism. They have already been on the road you’re on, and can provide an understanding ear in times of need.
Don’t be afraid to allow these friends who have experience with autism to watch your child while you shop, take another child to the doctor, or just take a day for yourself. It is said that, on an airplane, you put the oxygen mask on yourself before you help your child. You must take care of yourself in order to help others.
Dear one, my son was diagnosed in 2001…a long time ago when autism diagnoses were just starting to become prevalent. During that time, there were not the resources that exist today. For the people who had children on the spectrum, it was a very long road, and most pediatricians or the general public just did not understand the trials, tribulations and terror of the daily autism battle. I’ve done all these things during seasons of meltdowns, and continue to talk with my son when he has a meltdown at his group home.
Though he is in a group home, he is nearby, and I do not allow the group home staff to go it alone with him. After all, the group home is where he lives, at age 22, but I am still his mother and legal guardian. The battle doesn’t stop. It just changes. This season in which you’re in, it will change too. Just don’t give up – on your child, and especially on yourself.
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(c) 2016 Terrie McKee
Terrie Bentley McKee has been writing for over 30 years. She's written two books (look on the home page for more info!), and is passionate about discipling others in the Christian faith. Available to speak at churches, faith organizations, Christian camps and missions, she has an incredible testimony of surviving domestic violence, special needs children, having a spouse who's paraplegic, and through all this, witnessing to Christ's Power, Presence and Peace. For more info, email her using the Contact page.
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