I’ve been teaching children with autism over 10 years. Over those years, I have had students who bite, pinch, scratch, hit, kick and do on. Enough times that I can almost say it doesn’t phase me anymore. Most of the time, they weren’t doing it to be mean. Most of the time, it was them needing to communicate how they were feeling and the only way they could do it was by lashing out. It breaks my heart that they can only express their feelings that way. It’s why this job is just as emotionally draining as physically draining. But at the end of all those rough school days, I was able to go home and most days put it behind me. Though I sometimes couldn’t help but think how hard it must be for the parents.
I can still go home and put it behind me most of the days, but now I am going home to possibly see the same behaviors. Courtney does have some aggressive behaviors. For the most part, it’s only the therapists, teachers, caregivers and parents who actually see the behaviors because it’s when she’s frustrated over the demands being put on her. You can usually predict when she will bite or scratch so typically she is unsuccessful, but sometimes she catches you off guard. Usually it’s just a quick attempt to bite or actual bite and then she moves on. During the last two weeks or so, there have been a few instances where I have seen a more aggressive side of Courtney. It has only happened a few times and in each case it has been with me. In each case it also happened at bedtime. I hate to describe it this way, but I feel it describes the moment well. It’s like suddenly a wild animal is unleashed. All of a sudden she gets this look in her eyes, she starts crying and screaming and the only way she can truly communicate how she is feeling is to attack with her hands and mouth whatever she comes in contact with, whether it be me, a pillow, the couch or even herself. I try to get near her to comfort her and she goes after me. If I step back and wait it out, I watch her try to bite herself or throw her body around in risk of getting hurt.
Last night she woke up after being asleep for an hour or so crying. When I brought her to my room, that wild animal was unleashed. I tried to comfort her, I tried to assess if something was wrong, I tried to give her space but nothing helped. I was finally able to bear hug her from behind (aka; restrain her) in hopes that it would just calm her. Once she seemed as if she was starting to calm downI let her go and just let her cry herself to sleep. Yes, I cried too. It is so hard to watch your child that frustrated and unable to really do anything to help them.
I feel the need to say that I do not blog for sympathy. I don’t want people to feel sorry for me or my family. I am not sorry at all that I was chosen to be Courtney’s mom. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Blogging is my therapy, blogging is my way to make sure I never forget the good, the bad and the ugly parts of this journey. I also blog to hopefully share with other families that they are not in this alone and I blog to spread awareness. I hesitated sharing this ugly side. The last thing I want is people to be afraid to set Courtney off. She is a beautiful soul and honestly a sweet little girl. But even the sweetest little angels can have an ugly side when they have no way to communicate.
2 thoughts on “Meltdowns…”
Very insightful, Erin. Your blogging will help others understand Courtney and appreciate the struggle other families may face.
You are giving a face to autism … a very beautiful face … and we are eager to learn.