A Crowded Nightmare

The nightmare happened on a day near the end of the school year for a 6th-grade boy with autism. There was something different going on at school that day. A break from their regular routine to attend a gym competition. For him, any change in routine, good or bad, can be another nightmare.

The competition was among the older grades. I was taking part by helping the coach take score. I noticed him coming in with panic written all over his face. He looked around as if he had stepped out of a car and found himself in a far away place. His world had been thrown off kilter. I felt empathy because I had been in a similar boat many times.  Routine is essential to me too.  I just have coping skills he doesn’t have.  I don’t think it was just the crowd, but the hustle and bustle of basketball shooting, frisbee throwing, and relay racing. There were whistles blowing and kids roaring with boos and applause.

The teacher aide recognized he was in sensory overload. She had him sit down with some of his classmates who were taking all the commotion in stride.  In no less than a minute, he got up and stepped out on the gym floor spinning in circles. He made an indescribable sound but a familiar one to those in his inner circle. This is his own unique distress call when he is potentially in meltdown country.  When he almost ran into a student who wasn’t steady on her feet, the teacher brought him back to the sidelines. He sat there for maybe five minutes. That was as long as he could take before getting back up and spinning once again on the floor.

This time the aide brought him back but she sat down on the floor with him. She gently rubbed his arms and hands to soothe and reassure him it was okay. Her idea worked and he calmed down enough to remain seated.

Although he could pass for a high school football player, he is a gentle soul. Even in meltdowns if he physically hurts anybody, it is himself.  After the last contest, she had no problem whatsoever getting him to go back to the classroom. He was the first one in line as his class walked back.  He was more than ready to return to the familiar place and resume the routine. His crowded nightmare, at least the one that day, was over.

Tablet Meltdown

It was a relaxing afternoon since Fridays are most welcomed by school students and staff alike, more so the staff I suspect.  I was subbing in a special ed class.  The youngest of seven students was a kindergartener who was quite a pickle, but cute as a button.

Like so many little and big kids, she takes a fancy to the tablet.  She knows how to use her fingers to switch from one view to the other and with one finger touch the icon that suits her fancy.  She knows what button to push to pull back up the home screen.  We didn’t hear a peep out of her until she let out a scream.  She was giving the tablet a talking to with a face that could kill.

The teacher and the regular aide did the right thing in admonishing her to use her voice and ask for help instead of throwing a tantrum.  It is a message she has to be told each time it happens.  I think that day it happened about a half dozen times.

I whispered to the teacher that there were many a time I wanted to do the exact same thing.  In my private moments, I have thought or spoken a few choice words to my tablet, desktop, laptop, or other devices.  I couldn’t tell the kinder I had done what she did since I didn’t want to discourage her from following the teacher’s instructions.

The teacher chuckled since she knew what I meant.  Most any of us have wanted to scream at a device that has gone haywire.  Such as tossing whatever out the window.  Most of us don’t because we’d have to pay for it and the window both.  Even worse, when it isn’t our device or our window.

The regular aide was asking me how I had been doing since my autism diagnosis.  I told her about my meltdowns and how I went about coping with them without damaging property.  She said, “At least, you know what they are and have coping skills.  These children don’t yet.”  She had a good point.  Those who occupy a different spot on the spectrum who can’t communicate what is going on suffer tremendously.  They don’t know what to do about it other than scream, kick, cry, etc.

There was one moment when she was playing on the carpet. We don’t know what went wrong but she started screaming again.  But this time, she was rocking back and forth on her knees.  Now that I relate to since I rock too when I want to scream.  And I admit there have been times I have screamed at my tablet.

 

 

 

 

Meltdown Degrees

My meltdowns are at varying degrees.  One can be in the 30’s (a short upset), in the 60’s (a longer teary-eyed fit), or in the 90’s (when hopefully the only thing I’ll throw around the room is a pillow).

My foremost coping skill is a talk with Jesus.  Just telling him whatever is going on inside of me is the best place to start conquering the meltdown.  Oh, I could talk to someone which is not bad advice, but I seldom take that option.  It carries the risk of the person advising me to calm down.  Telling me to do such when I’m in meltdown country is like holding a red flag in front of a bull.

Sometimes I walk into situations where the odds of having a meltdown increase tremendously.  Such as going to the $1.00 store a few days before Easter.  That was a bad idea.

Easter decorations were flying off the shelf.  I don’t like to shop anywhere where there’s a crowd.  However, since I needed some items in that store at the affordable price of a dollar, I took the meltdown risk.  I’m a miser at heart too.

There wasn’t that big of a line when I walked in, but it seemed like when I went to get in line, there had been a cattle call to get in line.  I stood waiting while three ladies who were together separately purchased oodles of Easter bunnies, baskets, eggs, etc.  Now I knew, rationally speaking, they had every right as I did to be there.  But sitting through their purchases raised my odds of a meltdown.

Before I got out of the parking lot, I had to wait for cars to slowly, and I do mean slowly, back out of their parking space.  That’s what one should do when backing out, but I wasn’t thinking rationally at that point.  I started having one of those short meltdowns.  No tears but tension running throughout my body.  My steering wheel got a beating.  I shouldn’t have been driving but it was too far to walk home.

My next stop was what I call my “toy store”, Best Buy!  It was on my official “Saturday Morning Shopping Plan” that was written in my mind before I embarked.  It is my favorite store because I possess a common “autism” trait of collecting things and what I collect is in that store.

While browsing inside my “utopia”,  the crisis passed.  My anxiety level shifted downward.  I came home feeling extra tired because a meltdown, even a short one, can be draining.  There won’t always be a Best Buy around when I need one, but on that day, I coped as best I could at Best.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hit the Wall

I was subbing for a teacher’s aide in a special education class on my list of favorite hangout spots.  Some of the students I have known since I started subbing back in late 2014.  There are a couple of boys who are recent additions and have through no fault of their own have turned the class upside down.

I admire tremendously the teacher and her two sidekicks for coming to school day in and day out to maintain some sense of order in the midst of chaos.  The teacher is often holding one student in her lap while another aide is trying to catch the other one on the loose.  The remaining aide is trying to help the other students to ignore the commotion and concentrate on their classwork.  They didn’t have much luck in doing that the day I was there.

After I got home from the long school day, I needed to decompress.  Although I remained cool, calm, and collected through the class time, the tension was building up.  My home computer was not cooperating and my banging on the keyboard wasn’t just about my computer’s slowness.  I needed to get away by myself before I exploded on people and things around me.

I went on a tennis date with my racket and ball to the practice wall at a nearby college campus.  It felt good to be outside and walk the campus trail by myself.  I hit the wall with the tennis ball for about a half an hour.  After my tennis date, I was able to go back home feeling calm instead of a live wire.

The class is still high on my list of favorites.  The boys who require extra attention are special in their own right.  They have their sweet moments.  At the end of the school day, I walked one of the students to his daycare.  I have a connection with him since knowing him for the last two years.  He took me by the hand and we walked hand-in-hand until I dropped him off.  It was the bright spot in an otherwise day where I had to go hit a wall to help melt a meltdown.

 

 

 

Meltdown Fatique

My meltdown began with music coming from a computer.  I was well within earshot.  Even if my life depended on it, I couldn’t explain why the sound of someone singing on a video triggered a magnitude of agony.   I don’t know if there are words to describe this meltdown; if there are, I don’t know them.

I left the area to an adjoining room but I could still hear the sound.  I didn’t know what was being sung on the video and why it triggered an eruption in my soul.  I could not tell someone to turn the volume down or turn it off.  That would not have been socially acceptable.

I was alone so I curled up in a fetal position, held my hands over my ear, bounced my leg up and down, and silently sobbed.  What seemed longer than a few minutes, I went elsewhere to pace the floor in another empty room.  When I was certain the music was off, I could start breathing again as if I had been sinking and was able to come back up for air.

The meltdown left me utterly exhausted!  I sat down and rocked for comfort.  Before my diagnosis a few months ago, I wouldn’t have known it was a meltdown.  Just me acting crazy.  I wouldn’t have known my rocking and pacing was “stimming” and how such is essential during and after meltdowns.  Such repetitive behavior is the insulation from a meltdown’s cold and cruel wind that sometimes blows in from seemingly out of nowhere.