I just spent two hours trying to explain to my middle child, who is 3 1/2 (and I suspect autistic), that the puzzle she insisted I get down for her did.not.exist, that hitting her sister was unacceptable, and that she needed to be quiet because other people were trying to sleep.
I spent 30 minutes in the closet, pointing to each puzzle we did have and asking, “This one? No? This one?” over and over again. We only own three puzzles, if that gives you any idea of the sheer frustration I experienced. She kept pointing and saying in her fuzzy Bitsy speech, “There! Up there! Pongo!” Pongo, for those who do not know or readily remember, is the father dog in 101 Dalmatians. We own both the original and the sequel, Patch’s London Adventure, but she did not want a movie. That much was clear as day, because every time I showed her the movie case, she screamed and shook her head no. Ooooo-kay, back to the puzzle-pointing-is-it-this-one? game.
Every time I didn’t find what she thought should be there, she got a little louder, a little more shrill.
After thirty minutes had gone by, I was sick of trying to convince her it wasn’t there, and I left, apologizing that I couldn’t find it but that we really don’t have it. I swear. This set her OFF.
She started hitting her sister in her frustration — this is a common problem with her — and we spent the next twenty minutes on a merry-go-round of, “Say sorry to Punky.” “NO!” “Bitsy, we do not hit. Say sorry.” “NO!” “Do you need to sit in time-out?” “NO!” “Then say sorry to Punky.” “NO!” “I’m counting to 5–” “NO!” “–and if I get to 5–” “NO!” “–I’ll have to put you in time-out.” “NO!” “1″ “NO!” “2″ “NO!” “3″ “NOOOOOOOOO!” “4″ “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” “5. Okay, I’m putting you in time-out now for hitting Punky and not saying sorry.” “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” I sat her by the front door (designated time-out spot) and she started shrieking. Not just the typical “I’m upset” screaming most children use to bloody ear drums, but the kind that evokes images of murder and torture. I’m a teeny bit surprised that our neighbors didn’t call the cops or CPS or something. Ten minutes of this while I sat there like an asshole, reminding her to be quiet because people are trying to sleep, including her baby sister.
She refused to calm down. For an hour. And before you think she couldn’t possibly go on so long, I know for a fact that this child can scream and shriek and cry and whine for four hours solid — and that’s only MY record hold-out time. I’m convinced she would have gone on longer had I not given in. But that was almost a year ago, and her tantrums — if you can even imagine this — have gotten worse.
I try redirection, and sometimes that works… but sometimes it just doesn’t, no matter how hard I try. And there are times where I don’t believe redirection is appropriate. Sometimes there just have to be consequences. Like hitting, for example. I’m not going to use, “Would you like to color, Bitsy?” when she’s smacking her sister around. That’s like I’m rewarding her for hitting. If they’re fighting over a toy and I notice she’s getting worked up, yes, coloring works as a distraction. But her safety and the safety of my other children demands a direct correction.
But Bitsy doesn’t take direction well. She screams and hits and bites and throws things, going so far as to plug her own ears so she can scream harder and louder without hurting herself. It’s like she’s trying to drown us out because reality and her idea of reality aren’t meshing, and she can’t handle it. Literally cannot handle it. Not “chooses” not to handle it, not “doesn’t want” to handle it, cannot handle it.
How do you deal with that? I’ve yet to find a way. I can’t trail her all day every day to catch every little stress-trigger and divert her from it. It’s just not feasible — I don’t even think it would be feasible for a stay-at-home parent of an only child. There are things I have to do; clean the house, wash dishes and laundry, mend clothes… And I have two other children, one of whom is only nine months old.
And you might wonder, why would I have another child when she was so time- and attention-consuming? Because 17 months ago (baby was born at eight months, not nine), she wasn’t nearly so bad. Her behavior, while problematic at times, was not constantly this way. She had her bad days, certainly, but she had lots of good days, too. I don’t know whether it was bringing another child into the house or just her own natural progression that did this to her, but I did not intentionally put myself in this position. I had no way of knowing this would happen, but it did, and now I’m stuck in it. And it isn’t just her behavior that makes my days trying.
My beautiful little girl used to eat a wide variety of food; in fact, there was very little she wouldn’t eat. Pears, the peel on an apple, cabbage, horseradish, and sauerkraut. That was it; that was her list of dislikes two years ago, and she’d been exposed to a very wide variety of foods. But now I’m lucky if she eats anything but granola bars, bologna, and fruit snacks. I’ve seen so many healthy foods she loved fall out of her diet, like broccoli, chicken breast, corn, fish, nuts, fruit of all kinds… The only real fruit that has passed her lips in months is blueberries, and I stared in amazement as she ate those.
I don’t know what to do anymore. I have to wait until after the holidays to start the ball rolling on being evaluated, and even then it is a long process. I have very few ways to cope day-to-day. I have no family, no friends nearby who can help me out or give me a break once in a while. And even if I did… who would be able to deal with her? And all three? Forget it! Their father can barely handle them, and he’s their father. He’s good with kids — he has six little brothers! — and even he throws his hands in the air and says he doesn’t know what to do anymore. I can’t even count how many mini-breakdowns I’ve had over the past few months.
And there’s no relief in sight. God help me.
December 1, 2010 at 3:15 pm
Oh, my. Someday, I’ll dig up the things I wrote when my youngest son was Bitsy’s age and post them. They are very, very similar to this. This isn’t your fault. Of course you’re not a perfect parent, but you didn’t cause this. I remember so well what it was like, the constant scrutiny. It’s like being stabbed to death with toothpicks as people look to you to find the cause of Bitsy’s behavior. In that sense, I was lucky. I have three older (all typically-developing) children, and I used them like an emotional shield against people’s veiled accusations. I have my fingers crossed that the evaluation process is fast and productive for you! As soon as you get some people on your side (professionals, friends, other parents whose kids have similar issues), the whole world will change. It won’t get easier, but you will get stronger. In the meantime, try (I know too well how hard this is, but still, TRY!) to let yourself off the hook. This is hard enough without putting guilt into the stew!
December 1, 2010 at 3:21 pm
I saw your tweet and had to read your post….I wish I had words except to say please know you’re not alone on this. I’ve written so many posts when I feel I’m at the total end of my rope and don’t know what to do…but it seems to ebb…and then return again. Hang in there – it’s so HARD!
Tracy @ Sweet Harper says:
December 1, 2010 at 3:23 pm
Just remember that you are not alone, and you are not a bad parent for needing a break…even if that means turning on the tv or dishing out a totally unhealthy snack (leftover Halloween candy, anyone?) I can feel how frustrated you are, and I think it would probably be a good idea to move forward with an eval. That being said, remember you have to keep your sanity too in the mean time.
I went through a lot with my son. Long tantrums and all sorts of struggles with figuring out how he coped with the world.
I can’t tell you what is or isn’t going on with your daughter. But I can tell you the two things that helped me:
1) asking for help from professionals. our pediatrician and the “feelings doctor” that we went to were invaluable in understanding what was going on and helping us cope with it better
2) accepting my son for who he is, not who he “should be” and focusing on his strengths and our joys first and his struggles second
Whatever your journey is with this, I wish you strength and acceptance. And a daily reminder that it’s not your fault.
You can email me if you’d like. Support from others in the blogging community helped.
December 1, 2010 at 10:17 pm
Have you tried to gather information on the internet on autism if you don’t have a doctor to help? I do hope you can get someone or some agency to help you. Head start program? Free counseling? Wishing you the best in finding the source of her issues.
December 2nd, 2010 at 2:47 pm
I am leery of the Head Start program in my area from my boyfriend’s brother’s experiences with his daughters, and stories from others. I hope when we move next year we’ll be able to take advantage of a better situation and try the HS program over there. Until then, I’ve been reading what I can, but the spectrum is huge and determining where she falls in it is difficult without a professional. I do what I can, though. The holidays will be over soon enough and we’ll be getting her seen. 🙂 Light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak.
Thank you all for your comments. I try not to get down on myself, I try to remember that how she is is just that — how she is. That it has little to do with me, that it isn’t my fault. That the only impact I have on this is how I choose to deal with it. But it’s damn hard. Harder still because I have no relief. I will try, though. 🙂
@Alex: I may just take you up on that. I don’t know anyone else with a “difficult” child. I use the word difficult because these struggles happen with all sorts of kids, not just Autistic ones. In fact, I don’t know many moms well at all. Most of my generation are only just now starting to reproduce. Being the leader of the pack sucks, by the way. So if you get an email from me going AAAAAAAAAH! WTF?!?! How do I do this?!?! just remember you offered. 😛
Any time! Seriously. And I was the first of my friends to pop out a baby, too. So I was REALLY lonely on top of having an intense son.
December 2, 2010 at 11:34 am
Oh honey, I am so sorry things are like this right now. Hoping and praying you get the help you need.
The Sweetest says:
December 2, 2010 at 4:42 pm
Oh, I empathize with you. I had always heard about the terrible twos. Our ped told us they can actually begin as early as 16 months. And i kept waiting, bracing myself for throw-down tantrums. And when my son was two, husband and I were patting ourselves on the back because our son was so sweet and hardly ever threw tantrums. and then, at about 2 1/2, it changed. And then, by 3, it was worse. And now, at 3 yrs and 6 weeks old, I am a little scared. Scared that I am not equipped to deal with his episodes- because i ave read dozens of parenting books, and none of them have helped much. Scared that I am going to do something i regret- because when his emotions and behavior escalate, so do mine. Only recently did I hear that 3 yrs old or 4 yrs old can be much worse than 2 yrs old. And boy, at hour house, it’s true. It’s hard, when we are in those throw-down moments, to remember that we are not alone. That other awesome parents out there are having the same struggles.