After a solid streak of good days at school, Carson had a challenging day last Friday.
As luck would have it, it happened to be the same day as my long-time coworker Shawn Soper’s services. The first call I got from school was at 8:20 a.m., less than an hour after drop off. I was informed Carson had a difficult morning as a result of a temper tantrum over a learning game not going his way. The education team had removed him from class, and he was in his “office,” a room set aside just for him within the school. After explaining the importance of this day and a lack of coverage to watch Carson while we attended the funeral, we agreed we would give it some time and hope our kid gathered his composure. Ten minutes later, the phone rang, and things “escalated,” according to a teacher. I could hear him crying in the background. I recognized the unique sound immediately. He was clearly in intense turmoil.
With the clock ticking closer to the services, Pam and I had to make a quick call. After realizing my sister could help us and watch him for a bit, I opted to go get him from school. It was the best call because for about two hours we would be unavailable for the service.
During these difficult situations, Carson’s composure is gone. It’s difficult to connect with him rationally even for his parents. On the ride to pick him back up from school, I was consumed with one thing – how to get him out of there without an incident. I was also hoping he was calmed enough to not require a change of clothes for me.
These sorts of situations are worse-case scenarios for our family. Much of our daily focus in life is avoiding these sorts of traumatic incidents with Carson. He doesn’t want to become physically aggressive and combative. It’s never the goal but he simply lacks the coping tools when something triggers him to keep calm. At 12 years old, Carson has come so far but certain things – like losing in a game — still rattle him and bring out the worst in him. During and after these sorts of explosive situations, he becomes embarrassed, exacerbating the situation and resulting in horrible behavior.
Carson will later show remorse but while in the tantrum it’s like his lights are off. It’s just a waiting game to let him catch his breath and gather himself. It takes time.
As I walked into school with that one goal of getting him out of there quickly, I tried to approach him with calm and reassurance, pushing aside my concerns about making it to the funeral on time and all that goes with those thoughts. Armed with details about his behavior and antics, I assumed my kid was distraught beyond belief. Expect the worst, hope for the best was the mindset and the reality was far closer to the former.
At first, he refused to leave his “office” and was being stubborn. In the past after these sorts of incidents, Carson doesn’t want to leave school out of fear of the consequences at home. He wants to typically try and redeem himself, but this was not an option on this day. The educators were clearly rattled and rightly so.
After a lot of back rubs and just waiting patiently, I audibled. I had to let him know he could have his iPad when he got home. I knew this was what he was worried about because this is the biggest consequence, we can impose on him. His iPad is always his choice for free time. He eventually understood what I was saying.
On the way out of his office, he pointed to one of the educators to clean up the mess he had left behind during his tantrum. I suspect the teacher would have done whatever was needed to keep him moving out of the door with me. We were able to walk out of the school under composure and get home safely.
What Carson did not know at the time was he was going to lose his iPad the entire next day. Though he has a serious disability, there must be lessons taught. We did our best to explain why we let him have his iPad after such a horrific day at school and then punished him on Saturday, which is his favorite day of the week.
Those of us who have kids with Autism or other special needs find joy in the simplest things. Monday morning was one of these instances. These success stories are tough to explain to parents of neuro-typical kids who have other concerns and focused on more normal things like juggling sports practices and games with work and homework. I know because we have one so-called “normal” kid at home though I have realized there’s no such thing.
I was preoccupied much of the weekend with Monday morning, specifically getting him into school in a cooperative fashion. I never take it for granted Carson will go about his morning routine and walk into school as expected. It’s a major concern all morning around the house. It’s why our routine rarely varies to ensure a good start. There’s a lot of pressure associated with it but when all goes well it’s an amazing feeling of accomplishment.
I am never prouder of Carson than when he bounces back swiftly from a terrible episode. An ability to forget and move on swiftly is a gift for those with Autism. It’s us as adults who carry the scars from all the negative experiences with us. We can follow these special kids’ lead with the importance of fresh daily starts and having a short memory.