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He's 18

I have started. Stopped. And started again to write something about my recent experiences with my 18 yr old son on the Spectrum and his 3-day long manic episode that ended with us going to the ER. It has been really hard to get the words out. I am still in sort of a fog or shock even. Lately, I find myself moving through my days and pushing forward no matter how I am feeling inside. I have been in tears and forced myself to stop so that I could conduct Assessments, support parents at IEPs, coach my staff, and otherwise engage face-to-face with the public. The moments in between have provided me with opportunities to sob - but only for a little while - too many things to do - too many people to help. This has been my existence recently. How did I get there, you ask? Here is a brief synopsis.

The first big thing that happened was my son turned 18. He has always had a difficult time with getting older. To this day, he keeps asking me for a time machine to take him back to when he was younger. Before the body changes, voice changes, and emotional mood swings that came with puberty and being a teenager. But 18 - that was a big one, for him and for me. It was a major milestone that I had always held in the back of my mind since his diagnosis. I have wondered what his life would look like - and now we are here. I have to face the fact that at 18, he is not going out into the world like others his age: no college, driver’s license, living on his own or other opportunities that independence brings. In some ways, I believe that he understands that as well. He has expressed that he feels “stuck” and “broken” - the ‘broken’ part really broke my heart to hear. Things came to a head when he, as an 18 year old, had to attend an IEP to make educational decisions or to sign a form that gives me and his sister the power to make these decisions for him. What got to him was the very first paragraph which referenced him being “incompetent.” He understands enough to know what those words meant. He took a pencil and totally scratched out the remaining paragraphs on the paper. He yelled that he did not want to make decisions and he did not want us to make decisions for him. It went downhill from there. That was day one of our 3-day emotional rollercoaster.

The next few days blurred together. He was angry, physically aggressive, and verbally abusive. My husband and I were bleeding and bruised from punches, scratches, kicks, and slaps. Neither of us was sleeping because we were on high alert. I had to lock myself in the bathroom and hold the door when he was kicking it and trying to break it down. It was this explosivity that prompted me to call his psychiatrist. I learned a lot from that call for help:

  1. For mental health emergencies call 988 (instead of 911). They helped me to find the closest hospital that had a psychiatric department in the ER.

  2. At check-in state that you are in crisis and require psychiatric ER attention. We were seen right away. He was placed in a private room, saw a psychiatrist, and was given a small dosage of medication to reduce his anxiety. Bonus: it made him sleepy - we were finally able to breathe a sigh of relief.

We spent twelve long hours at the hospital. His second appointment with a different psychiatrist was to determine whether he would be released into our care or placed on a 72 hour hold. He was calm; he was lucid and could recall all that he had done and he was remorseful. We established ground rules about appropriate behavior. He agreed and we went home. Since then, I have been taking each day as it comes, finding small things that bring me joy - a cup of coffee, a eucalyptus candle, peppermint soap, re-organizing my spaces, and finally - WRITING!

By retelling what I have been through, sharing what I have learned, and offering transparency with regards to what I still struggle with, it is my hope that I am helping another family who may be going through the same or similar challenges. Take it one day at a time, one hour at a time, one minute at a time and breathe through it. Surround yourself with compassionate people who you can lean on - whether personal or professional. Tell yourself, “I can get through this. It will get better!”

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