Sometimes You Have to Let It Happen

The Valentine’s Day Fiasco

Long Awaited Peace

     This week has been blissfully quiet, and I was finally able to get some work done. You would think I would just be grateful for the peace in the house, but in a way, I have been waiting for the other shoe to drop. Is that horrible? Probably. Every time my son raises his voice a little bit scratches an itchy spot or does anything that could be a sign of agitation, I have come running. I guess I have been a bit on edge since Valentine’s day and the week following. Who knows? Maybe I am overcompensating for the guilt I feel for missing all the signs that day/week. He just seemed to be doing well, and I got complacent. The week following Valentine’s Day, my poor child, had at least one aggressive incident, a day. I had no idea what triggered the entire thing at first. Then after some investigation, I found out every meltdown was about the same incident that occurred on Valentine’s day. It was happening so often, and lasting so long, all I could do was let it happen and prevent him from harming himself.

Valentine’s Day Disaster

     I feel like Valentine's day is always a source of stress for me. If it's not finding the perfect gift for my guy, it’s finding the right words to write on the cute little cards, or buying enough Valentine's day cards for three different classrooms, for my three children. This Valentine’s day was no different. It was even more stressful than usual. It started off normal enough. I got in the car line and pulled up to my children's school. The first thing I see is one of the  teachers reading both my boys the riot act. When I asked what was going on, I was informed that my autistic child had received detention for assaulting his brother. I had knots in my stomach, I was worried something had happened during the day. The vice-principal insisted that this was a problem that came from home. I explained that since he had been in school all day and the incident just happened, there had to have been something to trigger it. She continued to tell me in the most accusatory manner, that it was an issue that followed them to school. Apparently, I just was not paying attention to my children at home. By the end of that conversation, I was feeling like having an aggressive incident, so I loaded up my children and started the journey home.

     I live five minutes away from the school and during those five minutes, my back seat turned into an MMA style, knockdown, drag-out, fight between my 13-year-old son, David, and my autistic child, Jonathan. I threatened to pull over, ground them, knock their heads together, leave them by the side of the road, take my daughter, and run away from home. (Just kidding but seriously, don’t act as if you have never felt that way.) I pulled over and attempted to separate them but to no avail. I was getting hit, David was getting hit, by the time I parked that car I was pissed. I sent David and my daughter first. Then I kept Jonathan with me in the car.

The Breakdown

       Jonathan and I arrived on the doorstep. I breathed a sigh of relief because I thought the worst was over. I opened the door, Jonathan saw David again, and we were back at square one. Nothing I was saying was reaching Jonathan. I could not comfort him. He could not tell me what happened, he was so upset he could not even speak. I was at a loss, so I let the tantrum happen. For the next 2 hours, David was watching cartoons in my locked room, with his sister, and I was in the living room watching my child attempt to kick and break everything in the house. Once he was done, he sat in the middle of the floor sobbing. He let me hug him, but he would not talk to me, my mother, or my father. He only wanted my fiancé, who was at work. I sat there with my exhausted child, hugging him comforting him, and crying with him. This was how my days looked for the rest of the weekend and the following week.

The Why of the Whirlwind

My fiancé finally got a break and was able to call us. After everything that transpired, I was not confident that we would find out what happened. To my utter shock, my son, who no one could reach before this phone call, told his step-dad what happened that day. Apparently, there is a game called MASH, that supposedly decided with whom you would be married, whether you would live in a mansion, a house, or a shack, what city this abode would be located in, and how many children you would be sharing this abode with. When my son, David walked by and saw Jonathan playing MASH, he loudly announced the name of the girl that the game said Jonathan would be married to. Jonathan did not understand the jocular nature of David’s comment, nor did he understand that the game was only pretend. He was mortified, and because he is limitedly verbal, he was unable to express his feelings of embarrassment. The end result was a daily routine of redirecting aggressive behavior, breaking up fights, and restraining him from picking and plucking. Some days it took all four adults that lived in my home to redirect him.

The Icing

Around Wednesday, things were starting to calm down. His episodes were becoming shorter and shorter. I was gathering information for a festival planning meeting for the school, on Thursday, when I received an email from the teacher that issued Jonathan detention. She gave me an account of the incident in detail. Which would have been fine, except she ended the email inappropriate, unsolicited, and judgmental parenting advice. She said and I quote,

“Jonathan may have difficulty controlling his emotions, however he needs to start being held accountable for his choice in reacting in a physical manner. That is not tolerated at school.”- an ignorant educator  

I was absolutely livid. I read that email, and between the cursing, and tears, I drafted the nastiest, politest, email I could manage.

“fyi Jonathan is always held accountable for his actions. If these outbursts were ongoing then this should not be the first time I'm hearing about him having an episode in school; which it is. To be quite honest, I resent the insinuation that he is simply not being held accountable for his actions. Are you suggesting discipline my autistic child more? For you to even suggest that he was not previously being held accountable is inaccurate to put it nicely. That is to say nothing of the lack of compassion in your communication. Raising a child with his condition is not an exact science. It is never that simple. He does not just have difficulty controlling his emotions, he is autistic. These meltdowns are not a result of my simply appeasing or ignoring his undesirable behavior. These outbursts are result of him being over stimulated and unable to express his hurt, anger or whatever he is feeling. We are doing what we can at home to educate ourselves. I've included 3 links to some literature so that you can do the same. Autism speaks is an excellent resource, and there are tons of literature online. Perhaps it will make it easier for you to monitor any meltdowns that he may have in the 15 minutes that you have him in car line, until we arrive to pick him up, or he goes to daycare. I will make sure he is in detention on Wednesday.

Thank you for your partnership,

Juleen Moreno”

It was difficult and took many drafts to get it to where there were no swear words or name-calling. I think it would not have been so bad if she was not an educator, and if I had not been put through my paces all that week. I made sure I copied the principal. I could not help but wonder how I could possibly make school easier for my son, his classmates, and his teachers. The fact that there was an educator that interacts with my son, that did not understand that the outbursts are not about him being unable to control himself, they were about him being unable to express himself, was a failure on my part and failure on her part. How many others were there, I wondered. I partnered with Jonathan’s regular teacher, and I started there. She invited me to give a TED talk on Autism Spectrum Disorder to Jonathan’s classmates.

The Aftermath

After I spoke to Jonathan’s class, Jonathan not only seemed calm, but he also seemed happy. He made a few new friends, and his classmates stand up for him. His teacher has always been one of my favorite teachers to deal with. She always goes the extra mile. She works with me on Jonathan’s homework. She keeps an open line of communication with me. She is never judgmental. She knows the why is just as important as the what. Thinking about it now, I realized that I made a few mistakes during these tantrums. In the beginning, I tried to restrain him from hurting himself and others first. This only succeeded in agitating him further. What I did in the end on the first day is what I should have done from the start. I guess the moral of the story is when it comes to the outbursts, sometimes you just have to let them happen and only intervene to prevent injury. The other thing I think I could have done differently is partner with my child’s educators earlier.

I found this information on there is some great information there. For anyone who needs it, I added a link to the site at the bottom of this post.

  • Antecedents – these are ‘triggers’ for the behavior.

  • Behavior – this is the way your child responds to the trigger.

  • Consequences or ‘rewards’ – this is what your child gets out of behaving this way. For example, he might be allowed to go on with a favorite activity, or to leave a stressful situation.

As always ladies, you are just doing fine.

-Juleen Moreno

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