We had an outing with J’s team mates this weekend and I basically set this event up for disaster. First mistake, I scheduled a visit with grandma and grandpa Saturday night. He stayed up pretty late hanging out with his grandparents and I didn’t state the importance of getting him to bed at a specific time either. It had been a while since he slept over so I forgot how out of sorts the transition back makes him. I didn’t even stop to think that it would have an effect on his behavior for the outing.
Before we left for the party we had dinner and I gave J an ice cream cone for dessert, mistake number 2. The event was on a Sunday evening normally I like to be home by 6:00P.M. on Sunday nights to give J time to settle before he starts the week. His behavior had been so good lately that I thought it would be ok. Mistake number 3. The party was at one of his favorite places so I thought it would be awesome for him to experience it with his buddies and didn’t want him to miss the opportunity even though it didn’t coincide with his routine.
When we go to this place as a family we tend to go late at night towards closing when most young kids aren’t there, since small kids are J’s biggest trigger. Being that this was an event for kids on the spectrum I figured it was private and closed to the public, but I didn’t ask, and it wasn’t. Mistake number 4. There were little kids everywhere and the noise level was up there, something I didn’t prep J about. It was definitely too much for J. His dilated eyes darted everywhere and he couldn’t keep still. He was clearly over stimulated and very uncomfortable. We decided it best to go.
As we were heading over to the area where our party was congregating to say our goodbyes, J’s behavior spiked and he started to gear up for an outburst. Within seconds he honed in on this one little kid and lunged to grab him, something he will do when he has reached his max. He usually just squeezes the person wherever he grabs them, but sometimes the squeeze is very hard and definitely scary to a small child, as my boy is 5’9″, 130lbs. I stopped him just in time, looked at the kids father and mouthed “I’m so sorry” as I escorted J outside. I told him “you do not grab little kids.” I followed it up with a punishment of no iPad for the rest of the evening and took him home.
It had been such a long time since we’ve seen this behavior from J, so long since we’ve had to leave some place because he was overwhelmed. The place was too loud for him, his triggers over ruled his ability to cope. On the ride home J went on crying and repeating his usual “remorse script”. To those of you who don’t know what scripting is in terms of Autism, it’s a phrase a child with autism will repeat over and over, sometimes they learn it from a movie or overhearing someone say it. To someone unfamiliar with them it would sound irrelevant or like nonsense, but I knew this particular one’s meaning having heard it similarly used before. It meant “I’m upset that I messed up, I’m upset.”
As I drove I tried to tune him out and began to dissect what just happened. Unfortunately when it comes to J, I’m a dweller, tend to over analyze, and I am my toughest critic. Besides the 4 mistakes I listed above, I found several more things I could have done differently as I replayed the last 20 minutes over in my mind. It took every ounce of my hormonal second trimester self not to cry about it in the car. When we got home I asked Big J to get little J ready for bed, I needed a moment to just cry it out and deal with the emotion away from J. I was feeling so disappointed. Disappointed because he grabbed a little kid, because he couldn’t enjoy himself with his buddies, because I couldn’t do anything about it and I felt like I failed him, like I let him down.
It still might have gone the same way no matter what preparations I would have made, the thing is, I would have felt better about it personally. It would have just been something J couldn’t do and I would have been OK with that, but when he falters because I didn’t prepare him enough, I feel like a failure. Although it may have been something I have zero control over, when I don’t prep well, I feel like it’s completely my fault.
When I do this to myself my husband tells me “nobody likes a Monday morning quarterback”, it’s his cheeky way of telling me it’s over, it happened, just do better next time. And he’s right, I can spend so much time beating myself up, listing my mistakes, that I miss the fact that we tried! We tried to get J together with his buddies, so what if it didn’t go perfectly, we took him out.
He made a mistake grabbing the kid, but everyone is OK and it was an opportunity for him to learn from that mistake. All kids make mistakes and so do parents. Things won’t always run smooth, it’s what we do afterwards that defines us. It was a learning moment, for both of us, as parenting a child living with Autism tends to be. A moment to see our mistakes, deal with the consequences, forgive ourselves and hopefully do better next time.