Some days it feels like you just can't win. Mondays are park days for us. We have been attending for years, every week. At least, we were, until about a month ago. It isn't that we made a decision not to attend; something just always comes up. That something usually involves tears from one child or another, and today was no exception. Why Mondays seem to be the day that falls apart is anyone's guess. It might be the transition from the weekend that throws us.
One of the hallmarks of autism is rigidity and needing things "just so." Normally, we allow for that in this house. But today, JBean decided that she needed one certain dress, the yellow sundress with bright pink flowers, and no other dress would do. This is her current very-favorite dress; she refused to get dressed without it. And we couldn't find it, so... "sorry honey, isn't there another dress you want to wear, how about the purple one", failed to work. In exasperation, the "You are 7 years old, you can find another dress, we can't find that one, so get over it", approach, in hindsight was not very effective, either. She would not budge.
So rather than being able to leave for the park, we were stuck appeasing her, feeding her Autism Monster, and trying to calm her down. (I am in no way calling my daughter a monster. In our house, when behaviors surface, I often distance myself by calling the behavior "the Autism Monster." I only say this in my head; it helps me differentiate between the child and the problem) She locked herself in the bathroom because she was embarrassed that she was throwing a fit. Yet, she wouldn't stop.
Rather than get angry In a situation like this, it is important to recognize that it isn't about the dress. It is about control. What's different, I asked myself? Why isn't she feeling safe? And of course, it hit me, Daddy is out of town for a week. Aha! With renewed understanding, I was able to be less annoyed with her.
Finally, she did open the door, apologized, and stopped crying. Peace was restored, but it proved to be premature. As soon as she was reminded that she would need to wear something else because, remember,the dress couldn't be found, she fell apart again. A seven year old pitching a fit can be handled. But factor in a pissed-off nine year old, who really wants to go to the park,is stuck in the autism loop and change of plans has increased his anxiety? The job gets harder. Now I am playing referee and trying to protect Ms. Fragile from a bullying brother, as well as trying to comfort her and teach her ways to find self-control. It's the Autism Monster working overtime. I think he's an overachiever...those run in my family.
I did find the dress, though I confess I didn't expend much energy trying to find it. I got lucky. It was in the bottom of the clean clothes basket. The one I pawed through to try and find something she would wear. She put it on and we were out the door, hours late. We piled into the car, weary, but we were on our way. And then we hit traffic. I watched the light change, but the cars didn't move. We sat there, while the light cycled three times. The park is twenty minutes away. It was 3:15, and park day started at noon. And then I made an Executive Decision.
We would forgo the park, and head to our local 50's diner for burgers. Maybe the day could still be salvaged. Despite protests, I whipped a U-turn, and headed to the diner. It proved to be a good decision. We all relaxed, enjoyed a leisurely lunch, and even went shoe shopping, buying shoes for JBug (she really needed them) and ended the day with an ice cream cone from Baskin-Robbins.
The point here is that by being flexible, (referred to in our family as "the F Word") even after the fact, we managed to bring a Defcon 2 situation back under control. Often with autism, the plan you make is the one that you have to break. Or, rather, rethink. If the plan is stone-cold, rigid, it will break, and it's not pretty when it does.
It may seem counter-intuitive to suggest that plans change. Kids with autism really like structure. They like to know that things are arranged the way they want (and often need) them to be. But, as the adult, it is much easier for your to be flexible than it is for them. The plans change because you get that the need is for a different plan. By tweaking the agenda, you can often avoid a greater meltdown.
And, if you are lucky, you end up with Rocky Road ice cream in the process.
T, who is pretty happy with the way it worked out