Handle with Care

Basketball, it seems, is a bad idea. Twice this week, Bean has come utterly unglued, and both times were over playing basketball. Team sports in general are not a good idea for PDD kids- and he is no exception. His frustration levels rise, and he doesn’t seem to understand that the other guys are supposed to try and take the ball- they are not being mean- it’s part of the game. The same thing happened when he wanted to play soccer. He lasted one game before his soccer career was over.

He is rambling down the court, concentrating with all his might on dribbling the ball. This is a big deal, that he can actually coordinate his feet with his hands with his eyes and bounce a ball at the same time. But the other kids playing with him in the gym at the Y don’t get this. His disability is invisible. He looks like any other kid. No one knows it’s taken him two years of therapy to be able to hold a pencil correctly and make it move in the direction he wants it to move. Other kids with visible disabilities automatically get cut slack by society. I’m not saying I want my kids to be visibly disabled, but sometimes it sure would be nice if I could just put a sign around his neck: “Handle with Care”

So another boy innocently took the ball from him. And he came unglued. He began to honk, which is a noise he makes when he’s stressed. It the worst sound in the world, and Mo can back me up on that. He runs after the boy who took the ball, and begins to flail and yell. And then everyone stops and looks at him, and I can see all this happening in slow motion, and I am powerless to stop it. My legs are shaky from the workout I just did, but I ran across the court and grab his arm- to which he responds like a wild animal. We are waaaaaay past the tipping point now, and the only option is leaving.

Only he’s getting bigger and stronger and it’s not possible for me to sweep him up like I would have when he was younger.  Also, behavior that the public writes off to age gets harder to deal with when your kid gets older.  I have to literally drag him, honking and screaming, from the basketball court, trying to keep my cool and find Jeffrey and Abby at the same time. I kneel down to talk to Bean, but there is no talking at this point either. Calling for Jeffrey to grab Abby’s hand, I start for the exit, a firm grip on Bean’s wrist. Now the whole lobby is stopped and looking at us. It’s surreal.

Bean starts to flail and scream and is punching me with all his might as I drag him towards the door. This continues to the car, with Jeff holding onto Abby and obediently following the rolling disaster. At this point, I am still fairly under control of my own emotions, and get him in the car. To whit he immediately flings the door open, screaming and kicking, and tries to get out and run away. I put him back. He does it again. I put him back, sternly.

When we got home, he was sort of calmer, which is like saying the forest is only sort of on fire.

I am the mother, and my heart breaks for all of my children. I can empathize with Jeffrey and his frustration at always having to be understanding. I can empathize with Bean, for what he struggles with and that I AM his mediator with the world. I feel terrible that Abby’s easy-going personality usually has her languishing as last on the list.

Bean spent the next hour in his room under his weighted blanket, until he could come out and apologize. He did, and now you’d never know anything happened. He’s laughing and happy and playing downstairs with Jeffrey. And I’m waiting for the Y to call and cancel my membership.

Some days take everything we’ve got.

16 thoughts on “Handle with Care

  1. Oh, Tracy, I’m sorry. I slap my autistic son sometimes, too. Sometimes he needs that physical cue that something is wrong. Physical cues always get through to him more than verbal ones, whether positive or negative. In fact, I slapped his hand this afternoon for continuing to pour a box of snacks on the floor after I told him to stop (I immediately intervened to get him to stop, too, but I was across the room and by the time I made it over there most of the box was on the floor).

    Sometimes it’s hard that my oldest is the autistic one, since it’s been like I have 3 toddlers for many years, and no one older to help. But it also means that the second doesn’t really know what a “normal” brother is, just how his brother is, and he loves him. Also, we didn’t even know he was autistic until the second was a year old and I was expecting the third, so we’ve always had the expectation that he would be gentle with his brothers. We hammered it into him from the beginning and he does a pretty good job with it.

    It’s interesting because that behavior has also carried over into team sports. He doesn’t get mad and lash out when someone takes the ball, because he has little brothers who take his toys, and he knows he can’t retaliate. But he’s also really bad at team sports, because we spent so much time telling him not to take toys from his brothers. So when someone comes and takes the ball from him, he just looks at us sadly, with a look that says “mom, they took it from me” and then moves on to doing something else (which is also how he reacts when one of his brothers takes a toy). Since I want the not taking to continue, and since he just can’t distinguish when a behavior is appropriate in one situation but not in another, we gave up on soccer.

    Anyway, sorry you had such a bad night. You really are a good mom.

  2. I will never EVER sign Thing 1 up for basketball again as long as I live. It was a horrible experience and I still cringe when I think about it. Did I forget to warn you about that? Soccer was better since it’s more linear, it was non-competitive, he wasn’t the only special kid on the team and we got SO lucky to have an amazing coach who was prepared to deal with them.
    The other night Thing 1 was flipping a gasket in spectacular fashion and in the middle he came out of his room with tears streaming down his face and sobbed to us “I don’t want my brain to work this way, I want to be a nice boy who does nice things”. I get choked up just thinking about it because, well, I forget that part of him sometimes…that it’s hard for him being different more than it is for me as his mom…that he reaches that tipping point and is suddenly so confused and frustrated and scared that he just shuts down.
    We have to strike a balance between our expectations of our children and the rest of the world’s perception of them. What we see as a success others might see as an irritation. And the second you let your guard down and allow a sigh of relief, something else happens and socks you in the windpipe. It is exceptionally difficult to parent a kid like yours. And doing it alone is a special kind of torture that leads you to desperate acts once in a while. Keeping him buckled and in the car was more important at that moment than almost anything else, it was a huge safety issue and as his mother you had to do something to make that happen. Maybe it wasn’t your best option, but anyone who would seriously fault you for it hasn’t spent nearly enough time in your shoes.

  3. ugh. I’m old. Back in my day we were spanked and worse. When my kids were little I spanked but felt like I was uber mom because I didn’t go further. When they got a tad older I figured out spanking was being a BAD mom so I found other ways to get their attention and the spanking stopped altogether. I still feel like the worse mom ever —I can’t take the spanking back.

    Now I am a gramma. I have little ones around again and still I lose my patience. I want to scream and rant and yup spanking is the first thought in my mind. I go back to my other alternatives…except for one, which my kids -to this day- tell me they hated worse than the spanking. I flick. Someone gets mouthy and I flick my finger on their cheek. Horrid. Bad Mom! Horrible Gramma.

    The point is it is a quick and relatively pain*less* way to get the behaviour to stop and grab their attention without discussion. One quick flick and then we talk calmly. ugh still the worse gramma, but there you go. I can’t do mouthy.

    I am sorry you have to slap. Your situation is difficult. You do not have a lot of tools or options when your kid has curveball emotions and cliff drop reactions. Would I slap? Probably not. But then again I don’t have an autistic (or otherwise disabled) kid who doesn’t react like the average bear. You are the mom. You have to deal. If you decide that you have to slap your kid to grab his emotional control, then well I guess that is what you have to do. Better to slap his cheek than have him run out of a moving vehicle and into a parking lot completely devastated and out of reason. Less of two evils.

    He will grow up. He will mature. He may never be “average” but then again none of your other kids will be either. They will excel, just like their mom did… in their own unique way. Some day not too far off you will be able to reason with him in a quieter way. Until then you need to do what keeps him safe. Even if it hurts you (and he) to do it. It’s what makes you a good mom. Don’t be yourself up.

  4. Um…I’ve done almost all of those things you described, and my children aren’t even autistic. I’ve carried a screaming child football style out of the Y many many times, and nobody has refused us entry yet.

  5. I hope tomorrow is better than today and that you find your balance as a mother and your need for individual time (for yourself and each of your kids!).
    You’re doing great!

  6. A girlfriend once told me she envied me because my daughter had DS and it was obvious to see b/c of her facial features. That’s when it hit me how hard it was for this girlfriend whose son had PDD. Everyone who didn’t know him well thought he was just a bad-behaved child. My heart goes out to you for the basketall situation. I know the Y provides some adaptive sports, but I guess that depends on each individual facility.

  7. I second Scarehaircares comment. My two special needs kids are so different. One has DS — so people have an idea to expect that she will be different. My other child has invisible issues…and they are much, much more complicated than Gracies. It is hard to know what to do in those situations. We have had to do those kinds of things before…and sometimes it is the lesser of two evils. Often, physical restraint or intervention is what makes him snap out of his moods..but they quickly escalate to violence or danger (ie..jumping out second floor windows, running into streets, jumping out of cars)…. so we do the best we can.

    Hang in there…. you are pulling a lot of stuff on your wagon. I just try to give myself the same advice I give my boy….we can always try again tomorrow. Love you.

  8. your post hit home with me. I thought you were describing my son, we are scheduled for some Neuro-psych testing next week so there has not been any diagnosis yet. I was brought to tears when reading your Y experience because I have had to carry Jack out like that so many times and all i feel is everyone thinking what a horribly behaved child I have and I must be a crappy mom to boot!

  9. I have a 7 year old with Down Syndrome and he loves the Miracle League. I’m not sure if they do other sports but here in Texas they do baseball. It is for all kids with special needs. They don’t have any practices, just games on Saturdays for a certain amount of time, everyone wins, no pressure, and everyone cheers for everyone. It has been such a great experience for our entire family. My daughter is her brother’s buddy. Every child has a buddy or two out in the field with them to protect them from harm. The best part, you get to sit on the bleachers and watch your child play. We love every minute of it. They definitely handle these special kids with care! You can go to miracleleague.com to find out more about it.

  10. Your post reminded me of my sister, she has a son with invisible special needs too. In addition he is very intellectually smart, photographic memory one teacher said, so that leads to more misunderstanding. She now lives in a small town and enjoys it because many know her son’s needs and they cut her slack.

    This comment from Vada is something my sister also said recently about her oldest being the one with special needs,

    ” But it also means that the second doesn’t really know what a “normal” brother is, just how his brother is, and he loves him.”

    Additionally, this will help your children learn to love, to serve, and that they can do hard things. Learning how to deal with difficulties, even if it is your own brother, can serve them well later in life.

    And the slap – well I’m with Heather O. I smacked the hand of my 2 1/2 yr old a few weeks ago and my son reminded me of it when she started hitting her siblings – GUILT-. I grew up in a home with lots of hitting, so like Smee, it’s a habit I fight hard to break but it busts through sometimes.

    It is also my opinion that boys don’t need sports to be fulfilled in life. He can find other interests which are more healthy for everyone’s sanity.

  11. And this is PRECISELY why the Girl Scouts need to start selling their cookies on the internet using PayPal. Sounds like you could use a thin mint. Or two.

  12. I think you handled things just right. Sometimes kids in the middle of an emotional break need a physical reminder. I had a professor of child psychology once tell me that when he was working with a kid who would throw similar fits, he would squirt the kid with a water gun. He kept the gun in the fridge so the water was really cold. He said it ended up being the only thing that would really help snap the kid into a state where the child could even begin to comprehend that there was a parent there trying to help.

    Your child’s safety is the most important thing, and, when in a fit like that, a small slap to the cheek is much better than him jumping out of a moving car!

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