I have always been told, in a somewhat patronising manner, that I need to take care of myself. I am a parent of a young man who is now 15 who we adopted at the age of 2 1/2. Everyone believes that this is young and therefore how traumatised can a child be?
The reality is very different, to the extent that I wrote a book about him! I wrote ‘Loving Eric, a personal a story about Adoption, Attachment, Autism & ADHD.’ to help others learn from our world, educate professionals and help other parents feel less alone. I wrote it because things had improved for our son but recent weeks have proven once again, that with a child this complex the road ahead is always bumpy.
Attachment and Autism can present in similar ways. Where one ends and the other begins for our son, I may never truly know. Essentially, for young people such as these, change is bad, it is scary. Since starting into the educational system,the pattern for us has been that by the summer term of every year, Eric has just about adjusted to the change in school years. He is normally more mellow, able to engage and learn. Hope is born. Summer holidays are normally calm (ish), but a few weeks before the September return to school the anxiety begins to build.
This year I was lulled into a false sense of security, the normal obstacles of a new term were navigated well, until they weren’t! The last few weeks have been like groundhog day. Constant emails back and forth to school, constant skirmishes with other students, all too frequently ending up with Eric coming off worse on many levels, including being hit. This leads onto fear of going to school and thus a spike in anxiety. The anxiety triggers the ‘autistic’ thinking, trapping Eric in a loop of repetitive behaviour, that sadly results in exactly the same outcome, that of feeling isolated, lonely and eradicating his already low self esteem.
A lovely girl I know well described this ‘autistic thinking’ as being in a concrete room, with no way out, no door, and the walls are just getting closer together, squashing her in their rigidity. This analogy has helped me understand how impossible it feels for the trapped individual. We, the ones not in the concrete box must therefore help them to find their own way out, we must drill through the concrete to build them a door, shore up the walls to prevent them from bearing down on them.
Constructing a door for Eric means that I have to try and enter his world. Why is he spiralling? Why does he feel unsafe? How can we put things in place to make him feel that he can escape the confines that his complexity has created for him? This involves negotiation with school, exploring the behaviours, being curious, because the behaviours are his means of communication.
Recently I have witnessed adults without additional needs, facing major change at work and they equally have not coped well. They are wanting to leave, walk away, refuse to do as they are asked by those in charge. They protest, they moan, they kick against their world. Perhaps my son is not acting that differently to them in many respects, but lacks their subtlety when he tells us how he feels. The main difference being that they are adults and can be self determining. They can seek new jobs. Eric must stay in full tim education until he is 18, he cannot change his situational reality. The only thing he can change is his outlook, develop new coping strategies, become less ‘Eric’. Easily said, dauntingly hard to manage.
However, that being said, for me the parent, and many others like me, it is an exhausting, relentless process. I am the target of the anger most of the time but I am also the key. The spiral down tires me out, makes feel a sense of panic about his future, I catastrophise and fail to see that this too shall pass. Things will improve but not without intervention.
So, getting back to my initial comment, I must now take care of myself in order that I can take care of my son and my family. I need to reflect on what makes me feel good about myself and be more creative. I need to relax my shoulders because they are currently residing up near to my ears….now, any ideas anyone ??