When I Realized Why My Son Melts Down at Home but Not at School

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Tonight my son walked through the door from school, and immediately I knew. He didn’t have to say or do anything. I just knew.

Call it mother’s intuition, or call it years and years of practice, but I knew something was wrong. It was the delayed effect. My son has had a tricky day at school. He has held it together for nearly seven hours. Then he walks through the front door, and bam!

He’s somewhere safe and familiar, and he can’t contain the pressure anymore.

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It creeps out of every fiber of his being. His face is tense, and he has red cheeks. His body is stiff and awkward. His words are fast and loud, and he’s agitated. He’s hungry, he’s not hungry. He wants a snack but not what’s in the cupboard. So he gets angry and swears because he’s not in control of his body anymore. He wants to say hello to the dogs, but their overexcitement is too much for him, so he’s too rough with them and he gets cross with himself. I ask him how he’s feeling, and it’s like there is a red fog surrounding him. He can’t process what I’m saying. His sisters walk in chatting and laughing. They sound like a crowd of people to him, and he shouts to them to be quiet. They snap back at him as only sisters do, and wham — the volcano explodes. We have liftoff.

Meltdown. There’s no turning back now. It all has to come out.

Then comes the exhaustion — for him and for me. He can’t reflect on it because it’s all just too much. He just needs to recharge now, as do I. It’s so hard for all of us, but I can’t even begin to imagine how it must feel for my son.

As his mom, I know there would have been telltale signs throughout the day. But they’re small clues that can be easily missed, as he would have been largely compliant, so therefore no one would have realized there was any problem. But I know as the day progressed, his complexion would have become paler as the energy sapped out of him with each passing hour.

He may have struggled to eat his lunch due to high anxiety. A nervous giggle would have squeaked out when his teachers tried to speak to him. He would have put his head down on the table during lessons or possibly rocked back and forward on his chair to calm himself down. And as the pressure mounted and the clock ticked toward home time, there may have even been some finger picking and sleeve chewing.

My son shows these signs of stress through his body language and gestures. He can’t always communicate his needs verbally, so they can get missed.

The can be a common challenge facing many children on the autism spectrum. Some children are able to contain their feelings all day at school, with the teacher blissfully unaware there’s a problem. However, the stress hormones are slowly building and building inside. This creates a situation that can put incredible pressure on families — especially if teachers don’t understand or believe what the parents are telling them. So let’s think about it this way for a minute…

Imagine yourself as a bottle of pop. Your ingredients include autism, sensory processing difficulties, ADHD and a hidden speech and language delay. The world’s a confusing place, and your difficulties are largely hidden to the wider world, so not many people understand things from your perspective.

This is your day:

Going to school is just one big worry for you… so give that bottle a shake!

You get to school and your teacher says, “Let’s start a new topic.” What does that mean? … Give it a shake!

You don’t understand what you have to do… shake it up!

You make a mistake… shake, shake, shake!

The lights in class are buzzing, and it’s annoying or painful… shake it a little more!

It’s assembly. You have to sit still while your insides are wiggling and jiggling around… shake it up!

The timetable changes and it’s not math like it should be, it’s now music… and shake again!

The car gets stuck in traffic, and the wrong radio station is on in the car… that’s a few more shakes!

You get home and the lid blows off with the pressure!

That’s the delayed effect. It’s a real thing. The times over the years I’ve felt so confused and isolated when teachers have said to me, “Well, that is a surprise. We don’t see any of that here at school.” Or I’ve heard, “Well, he can behave for me, so maybe you’re being too soft on him.” I spent many a sleepless night wondering if it was me. Was it my parenting? But I am his mom, and my gut instinct is always right. I knew there was something my child was struggling with, and all I had to do was understand what his behavior was telling me. My child explodes at home with me because I’m his safe place. I am predictable and calm, and he can really be himself at home. He is fully accepted at home.

So this tells me there are many things that can be done to reduce this build-up of stress hormones for children like my son — making them feel more safe and accepted for who they are. And that means really embracing their individual needs. Not just trying to fit a round peg into a square hole.

A version of this post originally appeared on Kathybrodie.com. Follow this journey on A Slice of Autism.

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When Our Untrained Dog Had the Perfect Response to My Son's Meltdown

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I didn’t want a dog, but my son, Brock, who’s on the autism spectrum, sure did. For years it was all I’d hear about every time I asked what he wanted for his birthday or Christmas: “Puppy please.” He’d even jut out his lower lip and make that irresistible puppy face he’s perfected over the years. I was able to resist for many years — until my sister blindsided me with pictures of a puppy she picked up that didn’t have a home. It was like watching those ASPCA commercials and all I was missing was Sarah McLachlan’s music in the background. So of course I had to go and see the little ball of fur, and the rest is history, as they say.

Letty (the puppy) was 12 weeks old when I brought her home. Immediately she formed a bond with Brock, and I definitely wasn’t prepared for the strength of their bond.

A week or so after brining Letty home, Brock had a meltdown, and within a month of her being with us, he had many more. She didn’t seem to pay any attention to them initially — and then she did.

After about five minutes into one of his meltdowns, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that she was doing this slow, army-type crawl toward Brock as he was on the floor. As soon as she was next to me, I held her back, because any type of touching for Brock during a meltdown usually made them worse. She ignored me and started putting her paw on his chest.

Letty the dog lying next to Brock with one paw on him.

I waited with baited breath for him to scream louder,  but it didn’t come. So next she put both paws on his chest, and then she moved over me and laid her upper body across him and just stayed there with her head in the crook of his neck. After five minutes of Letty lie on him, he started to respond by petting her. And then 10 minutes after that, he calmed down. This was the first time a meltdown was done and over with in less than 30 minutes.

Letty the dog lying on Brock.

Being the cynic I am, I thought it was a fluke. There was no way one little puppy could help him this much, especially with no training. But I was proved wrong.

Over the past five months that we’ve had Letty, I’ve been amazed over and over again. She is always by my side helping calm him, and I even caught her pulling his blanket around him tightly after a meltdown because he always falls asleep when it’s over, and apparently she was watching me much more closely than I thought.

Brock and Letty the dog looking out the window.

Letty has also given Brock a strong sense of friendship. He’s come out of his shell more and has been communicating much more articulately with her around.

Brock is also an only child, and Letty has given him something I didn’t even realize he was missing. She has to sit and watch him get on the bus each morning for school, and she will not move until he’s seated on the bus. And she’s always the first one to greet him when he returns from school. She gets on her hind legs and wraps her paws around him.

If I would’ve known a dog could have this much impact on my child, I would’ve brought one home much sooner. But then again, maybe we were really waiting for the perfect match for Brock.

Brock and Letty the dog smiling outdoors. Brock’s wearing a Batman mask and Letty’s wearing a Spider-Man mask.

Follow this journey on It’s Brock’s World We Just Live in It.

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27 Memes That Nail What It's Like to Be an 'Autism Parent'

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When parents of kids with autism aren’t running from therapy to therapy, advocating for their child’s rights or doing everything they can to keep their young one happy and healthy, they’re apparently collecting some of the Internet’s best memes.

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Since many parents of children with autism know a sense of humor can be key to accepting a new normal, we asked our readers to share their favorite autism-related memes.

Here’s what you sent us:

1. 

FYI, your 1 million YouTube hits are from one autistic child.
Via Patty Toma Young

2.

all these other moms are talking about honor roll, dance recitals, softball games, gymnastics meets and I'm sitting here like woo hoo! she tired a new food and her socks didn't bother her!
Via Megan Hufton

3. 

other parents watching kids at the playground vs. autism parents watching kids at the playground
Via Gemma Uí Mhurchú

4.

 

autism: around since noah lined up all the animals and counted them
Via Jessica Grainger

5.

everyone with autism was born as a result of sex; sex causes autism
Via Amy Kenny

6.

autism is not a tragedy, running out of bacon is. also ignorance but mostly the bacon thing
Via Katja BF

7.

you might be an autism parent if your kid can name all 63 moons of jupiter but cannot tell you what they want for lunch
Via Kristalyn Murphy

8.

make a sensory bin out of beans they said. it'll be fun, they said.
Via Jean Hong

9.

why don't we just get a babysitter? hahaha!
Via Melissa Cote

10.

is it my imagination or is your kid on the verge of death? actually she just noticed her shirt has a scratchy tag in it. so yes.
Via JenRaia Lombardi

11.

when i'm out and spot another autism mom
Via LK Mackey

12.

spent hundreds on toys, favorite thing is a big rock
Via Tori Manning

13.

autism parents be like, this ketchup will last a whole week
Via Michelle Storey

14.

that moment when someone tells you sorry when you tell them your child has autism
Via Debi Warren

15.

oh, you met one other autistic kid? let me take notes now that you are an expert on autism
Via Amanda Burger

16.

a list of people i trust... to babysit my child with autism!
Via Walk One Day In Our Shoes

17.

kids with autism... their idea of a play date
Via Shanté Nicole

18.

ways in which real autism is not like rainman: lily, how many toothpicks did you just spill on the floor? six.
Via Jessica Wade

19.

you might be an autism parent if your child sounds like a college professor talking about mythical monsters but can't tell you what happened at school that day
Via Helena Wish

20.

autism parents after a meltdown
Via Melissa Giambastiani

21.

autism moms, what my friends think i do, what my mother thinks i do, what society thinks i do, what the government thinks i do, what i think i do, what i really do
Via Joye Jones

22. 

mommy will be right out... i'm going potty
Via Melissa Cote. Image from What Does The Kid Say video.

23.

me: if someone mistreats my child with special needs
Via Walk One Day In Our Shoes

24.

an autism parent's worst nightmare... seasoning!
Via Our Adventures with Riley

25.

 

my child does not look autistic and you don't look ignorant yet here we are
Via Dana Fiedler

26.

it doesn't have to make sense to you... respect that it makes sense to them
Via Sarah Hoyle

27.

how was the movie last night? the 2-minutes that we watched 45 times was pretty good...
Via Gena Noslen

*”Vias” are the people who submitted the memes to The Mighty, not necessarily the meme’s creator. 

Which favorites did we miss? Let us know in the comments below. 



27 Memes That Nail What It's Like to Be an 'Autism Parent'
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This Autism Mom Has Chained Herself to Department of Education Offices

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Debbie Byrne, from Ireland, will stop at nothing to get her son the services he needs.

Byrne’s 3-year-old son Aaron has nonverbal autism. Before attending his previous school, Jonix Educational Services, from Sept. 2014 to July of this year, Aaron did not walk, feed himself or interact with others, Breaking News.ie reported. Byrne says the special school and small class sizes “brought him from his own world into ours.”

Despite this, the Department of Education has decided to end the grant Aaron needed to attend the school and instead are trying to send him to a new school 30 miles away. Byrne feels this school is not equipped to handle her son’s needs. Now, she’s taken action– Byrne has chained herself to the Department of Education offices in Athlone, Ireland.

As his mother, I refuse to accept this,” Byrne wrote on the Justice for Aaron Facebook page on Thursday, Oct. 15. “I am his voice and I fully intend to chain myself to the gates of the department of education in Athlone tomorrow, Oct 16th, at approximately 11:00 a.m. to prove the measures I will go to to get justice and equality for my precious non verbal 3-and-a-half-year-old boy with autism.”

A statement from the Department of Education and Skills (DES) said it has received an application in Aaron’s case for home tuition. They say the application is currently incomplete, but the parents will be contacted for further information and a decision on the application will be made early next week, Breaking News.ie reported.

My son can’t speak for himself,” Byrne said, according to the outlet. “If I don’t stand up for what I believe is right and what is just for him, it’s all for nothing.”

Visit the Justice for Aaron Facebook page or follow the hashtag for updates. 

 

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Please Keep This in Mind Before You Get Annoyed at Trick-or-Treaters This Year

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Real talk. Halloween is fun and all, but it can get kind of annoying if you’re not the one dressed up, ringing doorbells and collecting a pile of fun-sized candy bars. Maybe it’s not your favorite holiday. We get it. Kids can be loud. Some ring the doorbell many, many times, scream “Trick or Treat” at an unnecessary volume, grab too much candy or take forever to choose between a Milky Way and a Snickers.

You’re allowed to not like Halloween, of course, but the Facebook post below brings up one important point we’re going to try to keep in mind this year. The Asperger’s Syndrome Awareness – Bryan’s Advocacy Facebook group shared this valuable lesson this morning:

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The post reads:

With Halloween upon us, please keep in mind, a lot of little people will be visiting your home. Be accepting. The child who is grabbing more than one piece of candy may have poor fine motor skills. The child who takes forever to pick out one piece of candy may have motor planning issues. The child who does not say trick or treat or thank you may be non-verbal. The child who looks disappointed when they see your bowl might have an allergy. The child who isn’t wearing a costume at all might have a sensory issue (SPD) or autism. That BIG boy, might ‘appear’ to be an adult, but may be developmentally delayed. Choose your words wisely. Be nice. Be patient. It’s everyone’s Halloween.

It’s a simple little reminder even the most patient person can benefit from. Happy Halloween!

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17 Kids With Autism Turn 'Obsessions' Into Brilliant Halloween Costumes

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In September we shared the story of Granderson, a boy with autism whose obsession with microwaves resulted in one of the most amazing Halloween costumes ever last year. That inspired us to ask our Facebook community if they or a loved one with autism had ever incorporated an “obsession” or unique interest into a costume. Turns out, Granderson isn’t the only one who takes pride in what others may consider an unusual interest. Below you’ll see 17 kids with autism whose out-of-the-box Halloween costumes are proof that different is cool.

1. A deck with stairs

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“I thought maybe this year for Halloween he would come up with something I could actually buy at a store. Well I was very wrong! I asked what he wanted to be… and guess what he told me? He said he wanted to be a deck! A deck with stairs and a railing! Seriously? I have no clue where he gets these ideas from, but I am all for embracing his creativeness. So I grabbed my trusty cardboard box and set off to work. Grandy is actually standing up and the legs are ‘fake legs.’” — Brittany Van Arman-Miller

2. Pizza

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“My son dressed as a piece of pizza for Halloween one year because he was obsessed with opening and closing the doors in the freezer section of our local grocery store. We go to our local Hy-Vee store several times per week because he loves the store and the shopping experience.” —Tyann Sheldon Rouw

3. A scuba diver

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“A trip to an aquarium where we saw a man wearing scuba gear in a giant fish tank giving a presentation prompted my son’s obsession with scuba divers. So I created this, complete with air tank, mouthpiece, swim fins, goggles and dive weights. He was a hit!” — Stacy Enloe Kucera

4. Oscar the Grouch

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“Ryan, now 7, used to have an obsession with trash cans. So at age 2, Oscar the Grouch seemed to be the logical choice.” —Kelly Lendman Stoeber

5. Lightning McQueen from Disney’s ‘Cars’

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“Disney ‘Cars’ obsession translated with all of his favorite logos (another fascination).” — Amy Kenny

6. Buzz Lightyear + Tinkerbell wand + magician’s hat

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“He loves all things magical and purple, so this is Buzz Lightyear with a Tinkerbell wand and purple magician’s hat… love his ‘no rules apply’ motto.” — Cari Mckinley

7. Pirates

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“My boys both have autism and lots of sensory issues that prevent them from wearing a traditional costume. I made their double stroller into a pirate ship with the help of some cardboard boxes and old curtains. I put a striped shirt over the sweater to give their clothing a pirate look without resorting to polyester costumes (because they have trouble with anything other than cotton). We were new in our neighborhood and both my boys can’t have candy, so I made them a treasure chest out of an old box and filled it full of little gold chocolates that we handed out to the houses we went to, meeting our neighbors.” — Jennifer Andresen

8. Skittles

Rhiannon Dean

“Favorite candy!” — Rhiannon Dean

9. Beauty and the Beast

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“My daughter has an on going obsession with “Beauty and the Beast.” Last year for Halloween we decided as a family to embrace her love of the movie and dress up together.” — Jill Kingery Hodge

10. A cat

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“My son is obsessed with cats. So naturally, this will be his costume this year.” — Amanda Harter

11. The million-dollar wedge from “Wheel of Fortune”

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“My son was obsessed with “Wheel of Fortune” when he was 7 years old. He watched the show every night after we ate dinner. His costume was the Million Dollar Wedge, which was new on Wheel of Fortune that year.” —Tyann Sheldon Rouw

12. Super martian robot girl

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“Any [‘Yo Gabba Gabba’] loving parent should recognize this one.” — Angie Wiencek-Ashe

13. A vintage car

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“My son loves cars. He was in love with a Chevy 57 so for Halloween two years ago, this is what happened. Kuddos to my hubby who worked on the box and duct tape to make it happen.” — Lisbeth Carolina

14. An elephant

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“This was supposed to be my daughter’s costume last year but her social anxiety prevented us from going out with her brother. She has severe sensory processing disorder with her autism spectrum disorder so we kept it homemade with clothes she was comfortable in already. She’s always been obsessed with elephants.” — Alameda Dianna Plenger McElraft

15. A Lego 

Rhiannon Dean

16. Santa Claus

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“My 6-year-old old daughter has always had an obsession with this Santa costume that’s size “12 months.” She would wear it year round 24/7. This is her last December still squeezing into it.” — Jill Kingery Hodge

17. Spy vs. Spy

Amy Kenny

A special thank you to the Autism Society of Southern Wisconsin for contributing to this piece.

Have you or a loved one with autism turned an “obsession” or unique interest into an awesome costume? Send us a photo of it to [email protected]

Related: How I Learned to Embrace My Son’s Quirky Obsession

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