Holidays are weird. In our house, we celebrate Christmas. This brings stress on me every, single year because I am the one who must cook and clean and coordinate for those who come and celebrate in our house. Every year, it is a different group. Inevitably, because it is my nature, I stress out about whether I will cook it right, adequately, timely, and get everything done. I get headaches. I tense up and get muscle aches. I know I’m going to do it but I can’t stop it anyway. I become cranky and then exhausted.
So why should it surprise me that my son reacts in an identical way?
And, I think it has less to do with autism than it does with the words I have seen posted over and over again by friends- three simple words – that carry very heavy weight – “change of routine”. Autism or not, these three words make life just a little harder.
I am just as much a creature of habit and routine as is my son. I need and crave routine because it helps me remember and plan. It helps me get to where I need to be on time. It helps me keep myself physically and mentally healthy. Do you find that routine is good for you too?
So, just before Christmas, I was distraught because my son seemed to be regressing – not in the medical, scary kind of “regressing” but in behaviorally “amplifying” things I thought were either on their way to “extinction” or “mastered.” Of those, the two greatest culprits were: (1) using the toilet and (2) screaming.
From about Thanksgiving on, he was not even trying to make it to the toilet. He’d just lay on the floor, playing with a toy or book and just act as though he had no understanding of how to get himself to the toilet, something he had been regularly doing for about six months before Christmas. I’d ask him if he needed to use the toilet, while I tried to get all my Christmas prep work done. He’d respond, “No!” and start to recite math equations (a new behavior) while literally grunting and pooping right in front of me. By time time I took him to the bathroom – you know- it was too late.
As for the screaming was not an angry or “melty” scream – it was the “I want attention” scream. He played video games and screamed. He would find a YouTube video of a Dodge Challenger with blinking headlights and he would scream. He would play games on the iPad and scream. You get the picture. Now, I can take a good loud kid. But I do have my tolerance levels. And at the decibel level of “sonic boom”, I have reached my tolerance. He exceeded that level (and that pitch – I think the neighborhood dogs could hear him) by world-breaking records.
These are not big problems in the scheme of things. But when you are in the middle of them, 24-7 with no support system (they all have holidays too), and stressed out yourself, it can take its toll. As I stood in the middle of that screaming, pooping, peeing, never-ending laundry, present wrapping, cooking, cleaning festivus, I could not see see the forest for the trees. All I could see was I was standing directly under the poop tree and the scream tree. There was no big picture. And so I did my share of yelling and threatening no Santa and worrying about “regression.”
But then something really cool happened.
The “big” holiday was over. The presents were unwrapped. The guests ate and were gone. Semi-normal made an appearance. We started our ascent back to normality.
The little boy who had been crapping on the floor began to tell me, “Does your tummy hurt?” which was “code” for “I need to use the toilet” and the poop tree quit “blooming”. The screaming became more manageable. Instead of a high-pitched, non-stop, glass shattering noise, I got exclamations of excitement, “TURN!!!” “HOW MANY POINTS DID I GET?” and “YOU WON THE RACE!!” (Translation – I won the race).
If I charted it, I would have seen the direct correlation of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with the worst behavior. If I would have charted my own behavior and my own stress, it would have been identical.
My son cannot say, “Hey mom, I’m stressed out because we have all these people coming over, and I really wanna get presents from Santa NOW,” and “I don’t understand how much time has to pass,” and “I don’t really understand who is coming to my house” and “Will I have to eat weird food?” and when and for how long? But his behavior was saying it to me. I wasn’t hearing him. I was having my own holiday meltdown.
Always – always, it’s about communication.
Sometimes communication does not come with clear words in our house – or even any words at all. Even though we use words, regularly. The words are there and get said at other times. Both of us did not see how the behavior was an expression of what was going on inside. Neither one of us understood what was happening until it was over.
I’m glad it’s over. I know I will look forward to all the glitz and glitter of the holidays when they are fresh again next year. I just hope I remember to pull out this post and put on my “hearing aids”. And maybe both of us with have a spurt of growth in our ability to communicate with each other during our next holiday season. Because communication is a two way street.
Happy New Year’s my friends. TGIM! – yeah, I really mean that.