“Mommy, I can’t stop…” my son exclaimed in a half-laughing, half- worried voice, spinning and spinning through our kitchen with his arms out wide.
“…I know, sweet pea,” I replied with a half-smile and a heavy feeling in my heart… knowing that’s exactly it – he “can’t stop.” He swirled and swirled, then assumed his favorite position of the week… curled in my lap, fidgeting, and then finally settled as he squeezed me tightly while I cradled him there.
We’ve had a challenging day. After kind of a shaky week. Okay, after a long, rocky week. Though the first two days of school seemed relatively smooth from the outside, I’ve gradually felt this coming, and hoped I was wrong. The squeeze – literally! – of my son feeling the pressure of his new routine in the new schedule of the new days in his new school year. See where this is headed? As the week progressed his energy depleted, his tolerance vanished and he glued himself to my side… or my lap or my arm – wherever he could be closest to me. Oh, did I mention that he broke his wrist on the playground at recess on day three? Yes, a story for another time. But absolutely a factor in the way this week’s been going.
On days like today, I have this feeling that I can’t quite put into words. Tonight, though, my son filled in that blank… he curled into my lap and said, “Mommy… things were a lot easier when I was like, two.” Embracing him as closely as possible to my heart, I whispered, “I know, sweet pea…” and I really do. Even while I ran thru a list of all the “big boy” things he can do now that he’s not two, after he drifted off to sleep I let my mind wander back…
When he was two:
- He was always silly and jovial.
- He didn’t withdraw – in fact, he was extremely outgoing and engaging with everyone.
- He always made eye contact.
- He could relax; he didn’t worry.
- His digestion was not an issue.
- He wasn’t yet diagnosed with Autism. Or Sensory Processing Disorder. Or Anxiety.
- We hadn’t even imagined he would have food allergies.
Life for him today at eight years old brings a whole new set of expectations and along with that come challenges on many new levels. The bar has been raised. Don’t get me wrong – the last year has seen many triumphs for him and for our whole family. But, as always, along with each achievement comes a step – or even a few – back. It’s our dance… some days we get a few steps in, others we hover back on the first one. Either way I am grateful for the gifts and lessons of each new day, knowing we are exactly where we are meant to be in that moment. Still, it really has been a challenging day.
Remember that ‘turn of a dime?’
Oh yeah, it turned. And so we’re back to basics. Back to the days of baby steps and carefully planned sensory input with gentle moves and transitions. Back to the heartache of holding my sweet boy in my arms as he sobs inconsolably, completely overwhelmed… unable to really understand why or pinpoint the exact trigger. While we’ve made tremendous leaps of progress, it feels like we’re quickly losing ground. Again. So much of his sensory diet had become built-in naturally over time, it really has been awhile since we’ve needed to adjust it by much. The last few months (thank you, summer!) we’d actually had the luxury of an exhale… imagine!
The funny part (not “haha” funny!) is that it’s during this difficult slide back that we realize how far we’d traveled forward. Truly appreciate how far he has come and how much he has accomplished over the last two years since his diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome. The first year was really ‘touch and go’ for us – feeling our way through this maze with more targeted therapy, social skills groups, additional Occupational Therapy, etc. That year we also celebrated successes like recognizing letters, being able to tolerate sitting in a classroom (or even in a group of more than three), not ‘freezing’ when faced with putting on his hat, coat and gloves. Gone were the days of – literally! – carrying a frantic, flailing boy out to the car ‘like a football under the arm’ for school… not to mention the ‘Tom and Jerry’-style chases around the car each morning to get from the car to the classroom! But those days are behind us, aren’t they?
This past year had very little of those behaviors. In fact, we were pleasantly surprised and grateful for how well he transitioned, settling into and through first grade. I gleefully did the happy dance each morning in our driveway as he hopped onto the bus and greeted his friends! Ahh, but there lies the rub… none of those behaviors or reactions are ever very far behind us. The truth is that although we can alter his diet, apply every sensory input, provide equipment and enjoy the days when things are going well, our son has Asperger’s Syndrome. Period. It’s an ever-changing process… that is, what works today may not work tomorrow – or even later today. Triggers can change easily, depending on the mode and the mood, and not every technique fits the needs of every child in every situation. And so we begin again… and we find what works for today.
Sitting here beside him now, I find comfort in the sound of his slow and steady breath. I can hear the beat of his heart. At last, he is sleeping (it’s 10:54 p.m.)… at last, he is calm. For a moment, I am longing for the time when his transitions seemed so much smoother. I wish for those days back, if only to bring him to that calm, happier place in his heart and his life. Yet I know that things will be easier again. I understand that we must walk through these times and provide him the tools to tolerate, thrive – and to stop the spinning. And here we go, round and round…