The dreaded Apsie meltdown. It is one of the hallmarks of a child on the autism spectrum and it renders the onlookers most helpless. For a long time, we just thought the crying and screaming were signs of a spoiled, strong-willed child who was mad he didn’t get his way.
But as he grew older, we realized he couldn’t possibly get that upset about a simple science assignment. Or at being left at home while I took a brother to basketball. Or on a random Wednesday.
Because we didn’t understand, we continued to think these temper tantrums would resolve with tighter discipline. You name it, we tried it all.
It was only after one particularly rough day, that I saw the pleading in my son’s eyes.
I happened to think it was not unreasonable to ask my son to pull out his homework while I rushed his brother to soccer practice. After all, he is old enough, responsible enough, and certainly smart enough, I thought. No biggie.
But autism does not care about how old you are, or how responsible you are, and certainly not how smart you are. Autism takes great delight in stopping you dead in your tracks, blocking all rational and instilling irrational fears and both mental and physical shutdown over the smallest things. It knocks you off your feet and takes the wind out of your sails when you least expect it.
In a rush to get everyone out the door that night, I asked my son to pull out his homework and get started. In hindsight, that was a ridiculous request (but I mean, really it shouldn’t have been). But I insisted – my own stubbornness rearing its ugly head, and left him crying and approaching ‘meltdown’ status, yet I was too stubborn to read the signs. I ran out the door assuming he’d get it together and finish that damn science worksheet.
A few blocks later, to my horror, I see my son in my rear view mirror, in an all out sprint chasing the car. In his socks. In the pouring rain. In the dark. Four blocks from home.
He reached my driver’s side window out of breath and completely panicked. I was so mad, I wanted to smack him. But that’s when I noticed his eyes.
His eyes were wide-eyed and pleading and desperate. He literally didn’t know what to do and he was panicked enough to risk his own well-being.
It was in that moment that my own eyes were opened. For the first time, I saw into his own world. For the first time, I saw that his tantrum was not rebellion. It was fear.