Today was one of those days. And, since it's Saturday, and I blog about Autism on Saturdays, I decided to write about one of my least favorite things: screaming.
Screaming is, for a lot of us, a fact of life. And we deal with it, each in our own way. Not all of us with whiskey. At least not all the time.
As I'm sure all of you know (because we ASD parents won't shut up about it) the spectrum is vast, and no two kids are the same on it. Not even all of our kids scream. If yours don't, go hug them right now and say thank you. I'll wait....
Okay. So, kids scream for a whole host of reasons. Some kids scream because they have a low pain tolerance. Some kids scream because they like the sound of their own voice when they do it. Some kids scream because they're trying to get attention. Ciaran screams to regulate himself and when he's overwhelmed.
I'm a big believer in the idea that things Autistic kids do, as long as it works and isn't hurting themselves or others, is fine. But screaming really bothers me, and it doesn't help him. He could scream for half an hour or more, and still be wound as tight as when he started. And let me tell you, that's pretty tightly wound.
There are a lot of ways to handle screaming. You can ignore it, you can do time out, you can redirect. Those methods are fine, especially if they work. They don't usually work with Ciaran and his screaming.
For Ciaran, I have to look at the reasons he's screaming and how to fix them if I can. Sometimes he just needs deep pressure. He lays down on my bed and I put a big pillow on him and partially lay on top of him, until he can calm down. I'm always very aware of how much pressure I use and making sure his breathing is not inhibited in any way. Just like with everything, you have to be safe, and I don't want some yahoo thinking I'm suffocating my child or something. If his tantrum is mild, sometimes I can get him to hug me really hard, and that works, too. Added bonus, I get a hug, and I really love Ciaran hugs.
If you have a child with Autism, you probably already know all this stuff. If you don't have a child with Autism, I'm sure witnessing this can be really overwhelming for you, too. And, the knee-jerk reaction is to feel like it's a behavior issue.
I promise you, screaming is not a behavioral issue.
It isn't that this kid is spoiled and awful. It isn't that they're trying to drive everyone crazy on purpose. It's that, for kids with Autism, the whole world is huge and really overwhelming. When I think about it too hard, my heart hurts. My job, and it can be done, is to help give him all the tools he needs, so he won't always feel like that. That is a very long process. Patience is required by me, and for me and him both.
When there are genuinely stressful or overwhelming circumstances, it makes him feel like he's in fight-or-flight mode. He screams to block it all out, he screams because he can't think of how to communicate what he needs, and he screams in the hopes that someone can make it right for him.
As the adults, we can make it right for him. This morning when Ciaran screamed, I couldn't immediately fix the problem. He'd hit a sibling, the sibling had hit back, and Ciaran was all freaked out over it. He hits because he can't think of what he should say, but his siblings don't completely understand this yet, and I can understand why they don't want to just sit and take it. I encourage them to come to me with problems like that, but as I'm sure you'll all be shocked to know, sometimes small children would rather hit back than come to their mom.
After giving Ciaran a safe space to calm down, and trying to ignore the screaming (which wasn't working), we went to deep pressure, which finally helped him get back into a good zone for him. But of course my head felt like a racehorse had stomped on it. It still does, a little.
After it was all over, I definitely wanted coffee. And I definitely wanted it spiked.
I settled for non-spiked. Because before noon on a Saturday, I just couldn't do. Yeah, I know, responsible mom standards blow sometimes.
Please know that understanding why kids with Autism do the things they do, is helpful to us as parents and caregivers who can get more support and less criticism (seriously, never do I want to punch people in the throat more, than when they have zero experience with Autism, but want to tell me exactly what to do with Ciaran), and it's helpful to our kids who will experience a lot more tolerance and understanding that comes with people being educated about it.
If you know someone who is dealing with a screamer, give them an extra hug. Because it overwhelms us too, sometimes. We love our kids. It hurts to see them screaming like that, to know that there is something wrong and that we have to figure out how to help.