Monday, January 23, 2012

The stress of the holidays

A hard topic for me; there have been few studies on challenging behaviors in children on the autism spectrum. While this is not a daily occurrence for us right now, it is a snapshot a more difficult night. Not all kids with autism exhibit aggressive behaviors.

I drive home from work, ready to begin the night’s project: baking Christmas cookies.

Sam hears my car pull into the garage and waits expectantly, that sound a signal of dinnertime. I make a quick meal and turn my attention to baking as Sam scrambles upstairs to play on the laptop.

The dough mixed, I begin the methodical process of rolling small brown balls. The phone rings, briefly halting my production. I lean the phone on my shoulder and resume my work, paying little notice as Tony arrives home.

Tony’s entrance sparks a flurry of activity. Sam suddenly reappears sensing an opportunity for snacks. Within seconds the kitchen is full of noise. As I try to wrap up the phone call Sam playfully tries to steal some chocolate chips. Ten times in as many minutes, I deny the request, each time more firmly.

Sam quickly erupts into an aggression, catching me off guard. It has been a few months since Sam has behaved this way.

I feel his both his hands swipe at my face from behind. They are not hard swipes, but they are fast, numerous and seemingly endless. Sam maintains a tiny measure of control as he hits, his purpose is attention seeking. He knocks the phone from my hand. “Sam, please stop!” I shout firmly. In a moment he stops.

Was it the commotion or the lack of attention? The stress or unpredictability of the holidays? Were the chocolate chips that important? Does he feel sick? Is it combination of everything? I wish he could tell me.

Though only 90 seconds have elapsed, I am very tired.  

I hear Sam say, “Sorry Mommy” followed by “Laptop?” knowing the consequence for bad behavior is loss of his precious laptop. I merely say, “Go upstairs now.”

“Sorry, Mommy. Is OK. Of course is OK. Sorry,” Sam repeats with urgency several times, adding in my usual response in hopes of reassurance. “A kiss on your head,” he says, wanting to erase what just happened. “A kiss on your cheeks.”

“Go to your room.” I say quietly. Sam complies.

Is it anyone’s fault? “Maybe if you weren’t on the phone” Tony says. It is a valid statement. I have always been more tuned into Sam's subtle clues. I see concern for everyone’s safety in Tony’s eyes and know the stress of the moment elicits the comment.

I head upstairs to Sam’s room to deliver the bad news: laptop privileges are revoked. He looks so very sad. He responds solemnly, “Hitting is bad.” Hoping to salvage laptop privileges, he quickly adds, “Sorry, Mommy. Is OK. Of course is OK. Sorry, Mommy. Is OK. Of course is OK.” 

It he truly sorry for his behavior or just sorry he can’t have his laptop? The hopeful side of me settles on a little of both.

Sam leans over to kiss my forehead. Both summing up and apologizing he says, “Hitting is bad. Feel better. A kiss on your forehead. No laptop.” 

"No laptop." I confirm.

The kitchen is quiet again and I finish rolling the cookies and bake them. I offer a freshly baked one to Tony. He deems it good. 

I head upstairs to tuck Sam to sleep. As he begins to drifts off I hear, "Sorry Mommy. Is OK. Of course is OK."

Of course it isn’t OK, but I take a small comfort knowing he understands, if just for the moment. We can build on that.

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  1. Great description of a hard evening.

    Can't believe you DIDN'T burn the cookies! I mean, it's not the MOST impressive part of the story, but it still wows me.

  2. Burning the cookies would have been a real tragedy. ;-)