Saturday, August 09, 2014

Spectrum Saturdays: Autism Screams

It's not every day I want to run away from home to Starbucks. But when I do, I usually want to add whiskey to my coffee.  Or maybe coffee to my whiskey?

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.

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  1. I'm breathing hard just reading this. Poor babe and poor you, but thank the universe that you have each other. Education is the key to so many things--and love to almost all--Ciaran is lucky because you have both (and a great sense of humor to boot). I don't think anyone can deal with this kind of situation without the three elements aforementioned.

    I will keep you and your family in my thoughts. And when I see another parent dealing with a screaming child, I will be more generous with my thoughts. We never know someone's story... if we don't know them or take the time to think about it.

    I'm sharing this post with a few friends.

    1. That means a lot to me, Magaly. I like when other Spectrum parents read my posts, because I want other parents to know that they're not alone in some of the things they (and their kids) struggle with. But for the most part, they already know this stuff.

      I really love it when people who don't have as much experience with Autism, read my posts and learn something new. Something that will allow them to be more understanding and accepting of Autistic people in the world.

      I especially love that you said you'd be more generous with your thoughts in the future when you see a parent struggling. It is common among parents with kids on the spectrum, to have a story about a time that a child was having a complete meltdown somewhere public, and someone took the time to reprimand the parent, not understanding that it wasn't a parenting issue at all.

      Thank you so much for your comment.

  2. I feel your hurt too <3. My boy isn't a screamer..he gets angry with himself and punches the wall...he has broken his hand in the past but still does it. If I'm at the shops and hear a "screamer" and see people passing glances I start a conversation quite loudly with the nearest person and try to explain what is happening, in the hopes that by the time the family reach the checkout enough customers will appreciate the situation to feel more helpful than annoyed. XXX

    1. I'm sorry your son has hurt himself, Gina. Ciaran kicks and throws. The bottom of his bedroom door is broken from kicking it when he needed some cooldown time in his room. There are a few holes in our playroom wall that I need to patch, as well.

      My 3 year old, Liam, is a headbanger. His issues aren't Autism related, but they're neurological and sensory, so it's similar. He will absolutely hurt himself. He's got a goose-egg on his forehead that won't go away, because he won't stop headbanging. I'm hoping that gets better as he becomes more communicative.

      I love what you do when you see this happen in public. This is where I think awareness is beneficial. People are aware of Autism at this point. But that doesn't mean they are aware about what it means and what it looks like, or how to be accommodating or accepting of Autistic people.


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