Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Meltdowns happen

You know the saying... “Sh*t happens!” Well, I can tell you that meltdowns happen! And they can be loads ‘o fun! Like poking your eye with a sharp stick kind of fun. I had the distinct pleasure of working through a meltdown last night with Grumpy Badger.  
Granted, he’s had some big transitions recently. He started a new schedule at school last week. We are working to integrate him from half-day into a longer school day, eventually moving him into a regular classroom. I think the changes are wearing him out, which makes his meltdown fuse shorter than normal.
I could tell when he got home from school that it might be an interesting night. He was very reactive to everything I was saying, and any demands placed upon him launched an automatic tirade of complaining and “I don’t want to” responses.
By the time we got to his social skills group, he seemed to be more cooperative and I thought we might be able to redeem the evening. Toward the end of his appointment, he was becoming unfocused and non-participatory. The meltdown alert system in my head started to sound the alarm that there might be impending doom sometime soon. I was right.
He decided he had to go to the bathroom. Mind you, he had just gone before we had left the house for our appointment. I wasn’t too concerned about his urgency and figured he was using it as an escape tactic to remove himself from the end of his appointment.
Typically he can use the bathroom by himself, but he is scared to go alone in a public setting because the commercial toilets are so much louder when they flush. And, he has a fear of a loud fan turning on when he enters an unfamiliar bathroom and turns on the light switch. Some switches are wired to turn on both the light and the fan at the same time, which freaks him out completely. So, he asked me to come with him to help. That’s fine. I go, leaving behind Monkey to play quietly, praying he doesn’t get into trouble when I’m out of the room.
There were 2 bathrooms to choose from. I remembered that the last time he used the bathroom down the hall, the fan upset him. I knew that if we went in there, he would likely have some anxiety. So, we chose the closer bathroom. However, I didn’t anticipate that he would have anxiety over the fact that he’d never used this bathroom before. It was new and he didn’t know if he should be afraid of it.
Then, the trigger. The paper seat liner. It’s a public bathroom and I am not going to have him use the toilet without the seat liner. Period. Well, what I had forgotten was that in a previous public bathroom experience, the paper didn’t get ripped in the middle and when he went, the paper got wet and wicked toward his leg. Yeah, that was a problem. So, he’s starting to freak out about the paper. I make sure to rip it in such as way that the paper won’t touch any part of him while he is going. I’m talking him through the process so that he will go and get it over with. After all, he needs to get back to his group and I need to get back to Monkey.
So, I get him to sit down and nothing happens. I’m trying to be patient, but it is not a virtue I possess at that moment. Time is passing, nothing is happening and I need to check on Monkey. So, I leave for a moment to walk all of 10 steps. That’s when the screaming starts.
I get back in there, and he’s got tears streaming down his face, dripping onto the paper liner. Oh boy. Here we go. I kneel on the bathroom floor, giving him a reassuring hug as he sits there on the toilet, wet with tears. He calms down, but can’t seem to bring himself to actually “go.” I tell him that the group is over now and we are going to have to leave, trying to get him to focus. He starts to get upset that the group finished without him, and once again, all progress stops. Still nothing. The moms are packing up their kids and we’re still in the bathroom.
I admit it. What little patience I thought I had was completely gone. I’ve been negotiating (and not very well) in a bathroom with a kid who says he needs to go, but is unable to get past the fact that a drop of pee might get on the paper. I know he’s in the middle of dealing with a lot of sensory issues and I wish I could make those things better for him. I’m trying to help but I’m also feeling the need to just get the heck out of there and get him home. And, there’s the fact that Monkey is unattended. I hope he hasn’t left the building by now. He’s done it before.  
By some miracle, Grumpy Badger manages to squeeze out a few drops in his stressed state, and when we get back to the room Monkey is still there waiting. Recognizing that his friends are either already gone or are in the process of leaving, there is a renewed sense of upset that he missed the end of his group. I know the ride home will be long, but I also know that it needs to be quick so that he can finish what he started in a more comfortable environment.
I remember the days not all that long ago when I could look forward to meltdown after meltdown after meltdown, from morning until night, day after day. Those days were so trying physically, mentally and emotionally. Sometimes I would have to take a mommy time out behind a locked bedroom door just to get away for a few minutes and catch my breath, or even cry. Those memories came uncomfortably flooding back.
Grumpy Badger has come a long way. Truly he has! When his meltdown started last night, I felt a little caught off-guard and definitely out of practice. We’ve moved on from a stage of perpetual crisis to a management stage, and it’s been a nice change of pace.
The paper liner incident served as a good reminder that my son still has issues. I may not see them every day, but they are still there lurking in the background ready to pop out at a moment’s notice. I can only imagine how hard some things must be for him to manage with all of his sensory sensitivities. I’m sure there is a healthy dose of fear surrounding his world. I wish I could take that fear away. I wish I could diffuse his meltdowns faster and better. I wish I had more patience.
The only thing I can do is keep moving forward with him. I will keep trying, and I know my son will keep working to manage how he lives in the world. It is getting better, and I hope that continues for his benefit.       

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