It always starts out so simple. It seems hard to believe what will take place in the hour that you leave your house.
My teen daughter had to be at a school event this morning. That means I would have to make a quick car ride with her and my autistic eight year old, Finn.
The trip began with me getting into the car and realizing that the fuel tank was literally on E. I felt frustration immediately because I knew that one simple drop off would now involve a stop at the local gas station too.
As I pulled in, Finn immediately wanted to go in. Before I could even say the words, he had clicked the seatbelt and was wriggling out of his seat. I knew we didn’t have time for that though.
I told him to stay in the car but he was already climbing into the front seat. He then saw his sister’s backpack filled with snacks and started to reach for an applesauce packet. I told him calmly (because I knew he wouldn’t want to hear it) that it belonged to his sister and it was her food for the day and that it wasn’t his.
He threw his body backwards and landed on the floor of the van. Crying. Hitting. Kicking the seats.
I try to pay and pump quickly and get back in the car. As I’m pumping I see through the window her begrudgingly giving him the applesauce to avoid the fight.
I know his older sibling just decided to give in and give him part of her lunch to try to make him happy but I’ll be honest, I didn’t want her to do that. The special needs sibling balance has been tough already this week. To me, it’s now just one more thing where she felt she needed to concede.
Five minutes after leaving the school to drop off my daughter, I hear the words..
“Go get sticks.”
See, my son has been wanting to make cake pops all week. He saw a You Tube video and he has perseverated on it since. But we don’t have the supplies. So last Wednesday, I told him we would go today. But I couldn’t go yet. I still had to go back and pick my daughter up and get her home first.
So I said. “Not right now. We have to go home first.”
And that was all it took.
The perfect storm.
- denial of going into the gas station
- denial of the applesauce
- more waiting for what he wants to do
The first blow came out of nowhere. I’m grateful I wasn’t in a busy intersection because his right hand to my cheek and ear made my entire body move and the car swerve.
I immediately gripped the steering wheel and told him to sit back because he was going to get us into an accident. With my hand still covering my cheek from the sting, the second hit came just as hard. So did the next five to the back of my head.
The rest happened so fast. My hair pulled, forcing my head backward. Toys and items from the back now getting thrown at me, and the front seat. Then he took his shoe off and just started hitting my arm repeatedly with it. Screaming and calling me names.
Telling me I needed to go to Home Goods or else.
Then the pounding and kicking of the glass windows started. I had to pull over and just wait. I didn’t know what else to do. I also can’t say anything because in those moments, silence is the only way to get through it.
I sat in my front seat and pulled out my phone and took this picture. My cheek still felt hot from first hit. I decided I would add this to a social story. We have been working on teaching him emotions and I knew that I could use it to show him a genuine picture of what sad looks like.
One of his biggest struggles is regulating those big emotions like sadness, anger and frustration and knowing how to appropriately and safely respond. I sat quietly for twenty minutes, not reacting or giving him a lecture about the behavior. Although very wrong, I knew his body and brain was in fight or flight and I needed to make sure that him bolting out of the car wasn’t going to come next.
After enough time had passed, I reached for his hand and guided him back to his seat without saying a word. I strapped him in and climbed in the front seat and drove back home.
The next thing that happened I can’t explain.
Finn unbuckled himself and said part of a SpongeBob script “moments later” and then he just kissed me in the cheek that in the same hour, he had hit so hard that my ear was still ringing.
He then kissed it over and over and started hugging me from behind and then I heard..
“I’m so so sorry”
“I think I won’t take sissy’s applesauce again”
“I won’t hurt you. Don’t be scared”
“Don’t be sad”
I pulled into the driveway and was relieved I could get us home safe. He hopped out and opened the door for me and took my hand and walked us to the front door.
I made myself a much needed cup of coffee and just sat at my kitchen counter and started to type. That’s what I do in these moments to process the situation. But my mind was a swirl of mixed emotions because that’s what this special needs parenting journey is.
It’s not all bad. It’s not all good. It can make you cry. Or it can fill you with joy.
It can break your heart. And then make you have gratitude. It can drop you to your knees. Or make you rise up. It’s scary one minute. And beautiful the next.
This post was shared by Sheryl St. Aubin. You can follow her journey on Facebook at Three Little Birds – Raising Kids on the Autism Spectrum.