Julian’s face was tense and his hands were shaking as he began to speak, “Dad! I don’t know what to do!” He was having a meltdown. I had seen this before, more than a few times. When he was younger this was, unfortunately, a regular occurrence. These incidents have become fewer and far between but when they do happen the intensity and frustration levels are very high. So here was my eighteen year old, frankly, “losing it” and there was little I could do, despite my efforts, to make him feel better.
It began that morning as Martina was leaving for work. Julian began repeating, with increasing intensity, a couple of questions and statements.
“Mom, my life is going to be good.”
“I know honey, it will be fabulous!”
”You know that.”
“I’m positive!” She was doing her best to be encouraging and upbeat.
“You know that!” Julian was beginning to get agitated.
This exchange continued for a few more repetitions with Julian’s anxiety level increasing. Despite her, and later my assurances nothing could calm Julian. We are well aware that he is concerned about his future, he has one more year of high school. There are family friends his age already in college. Jared, our younger son, is participating in SAT prepatory programs. We have numerous discussions with Jared, a rising junior, about potential colleges and what it will take to be ready. We have also talked with Julian about this, we even went on a college visit recently with him. More on that in a future post.
We have always told him that he will continue his education after high school. But on this day nothing that we said in the way of encouragement or support mattered. I can’t tell you that there was a specific trigger for this because, to our knowledge, there wasn’t. That is the nature of autism meltdowns, your child can go from calm to nearly raging in an instant, with no reason or forewarning. After Martina had left the house it was just the two us, Jared was not at home.
Persons who care for someone with autism may be familiar with how the rest of the day unfolded. Julian had taken off on an emotional rocket;at times hitting himself on the head, throwing himself on the floor, unprovoked aggressive moves towards me and making high volume pronouncements that indicated he wished harm to me and Martina. It is not an easy thing to witness, your child this way.
I knew full well he really didn’t mean any of the things he was saying or doing, but it was happening. I kept my voice at a modulated level and tried to keep him engaged. What was wrong? Why would you say that? You know we love you and don’t want you to hurt yourself. You have such a bright future. You are going to have a great life. This is not the proper way to behave. No matter what words came out of mouth he was not satisfied. In his mind things simply were not right at the moment. So I had to sit there and make sure my son did nothing drastic as we rode out this emotional storm together.
When Julian gets like this he can say some pretty hurtful things.
”Dad I hate you! I hope the Dalmatians attack you!”
”You don’t mean that.”
Suddenly catching himself he will quickly change tones and tell me he’s sorry, but two minutes later he’s saying something similar. This can go on for a couple of hours. A brief humorous aside. Julian’s mention of the Dalmatians is a reference to Disney’s animated classic, “101 Dalmatians”. Yes, even in a state such as he was in, his beloved Disney animated films are never far from his mind.
Julian’s development and determination, along with the care of an exceptional therapist have helped to dramatically reduce these episodes. They have, thankfully, become fewer and very far between. Afterwards, when he has calmed down, we have a lengthy discussion about what happened. It is rare that he can fully explain what upset him. He is always contrite and very embarrassed at this point. He tells us he knows full well how much we love him and how much he loves us. We make it clear that he has hurt our feelings and his behavior is not acceptable. We even let him help decide on proper punishment.
It is interesting that these outbursts almost never take place outside the home. Martina likes to say that he saves it for us because we’re special. At the end of day he and I sat together in his room. It was obvious how much his actions bothered him.
“Dad, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t do those things.”
“You’re right, you shouldn’t. Your mother and I don’t deserve that kind of treatment.”
“I really love you and Mom….and Jared.”
“We love you too, son.”
Despite incidents such as this one, which(again) are now very infrequent, we feel very fortunate to receive the many displays of love and affection that Julian showers us with on a daily basis. As I’ve shared with you before, that is not common in the world of autism.
Difficult? Tough? Sure, on occasion, it can be. But you know what, he’s still one of the sweetest, considerate and most loving people you will ever meet.