D, my SPD champ is 3 1/2 now and his meltdowns are getting worse. They are changing. They used to be easy to predict, but now that he is growing up and understanding abstract concepts and emotional communication better, the ugly meltdowns are coming back with a vengeance.
Sometimes I can stop them dead in their tracks with some deep pressure or a blanket burrito. Other times there’s nothing to do but stand by while the storm rages and hope that not too much damage occurs.
He starts screaming, sometimes hitting himself, pulling at his face or mouth and in extreme cases he has been known cry and scream so hard that he causes an asthma attack. How long does this take? Not long. Only about 10 to 15 minutes. Usually these are the times when he is resistant to any type of intervention from me or Daddy, and every time we say a word or make a move to help him, the reaction escalates. He fights so hard, twisting and writhing and I’m left there doing some twisting and writhing of my own, but only on the inside.
Sometimes in those moments, when I can’t take it anymore either, and I let it slip out, D recognizes it and it snaps him out of his own meltdown. “Mommy, do you need squishes? Here, let me squish you, okay Mommy?” Or sometimes he’ll say, “Okay Mommy, calm down. There’s nothing wrong with you,” after which he takes me through a relaxing breathing exercise. (I love this boy!)
I have no choice in the matter. He knows exactly what I am feeling even without me saying a word. He knows because he’s been there.
The really big achievement for him is that he is finally starting to recognize how much he can take before he needs to give himself some “alone time” which he has termed “I just need some space right now.” He is recognizing his limits just before he reaches them, and for us, and for him, that is huge.
Like D, I’m one who likes control, no, I thrive on it. I need control. Without it, I feel lost and it isn’t very long before the ugly beast of insecurity, anxiety and sensory overload starts rearing its ugly head saying, “You’re not enough,” “You can’t,” “Don’t try.”
But I have to try, because if I don’t then the voice wins. If I don’t try then I can never be ‘enough’ I can only lock in failure by not trying. So I get up. I try. Sometimes I do it through shaking sobs, other times through clenched teeth and tightened muscles. And D looks to me. He looks to me for strength, and sometimes – okay, a lot of times, I just don’t have it.
Certain people in my life seem to think that they know better than me. That I should take D out of his developmental preschool because he is in there with other kids whose struggles are much worse than his. Some of these kids are non-verbal and end up communicating by biting, hitting and punching. But my sweet, sweet boy is not picking up those behaviors, and I am grateful. He is changing, but only in the best ways.
But seeing the struggles of others can often teach us so much about ourselves. Seeing my struggles has been teaching D what to do for himself. So, am I wrong for hoping that while he struggles on his own at home and at school that he is picking up tools to cope? Am I wrong for hoping that seeing some of the other kids who are worse off than D, he will learn what to do for himself, or even what not to do? I don’t think I’m wrong. He loves preschool, even if it’s tiring, stimulating, difficult and maybe sometimes it’s even painful. He wants to go back and on the weekend he begs to have another “preschool day.”
I know it’s right, even though it’s hard. And the worst part of all this is recognizing that as much as D is changing, his meltdowns are not going away any time soon. It is a complex process that causes them, and it is never the same stuff that makes them happen. But sometimes, for his sake, and my own, I wish that they didn’t have to happen at all.