The past few months have been a challenge for me as both a Mother of a child with autism and a professional serving families of children with autism. In my personal life, I have struggled with my son’s difficulty accepting our new home. I have watched him go through a cycle of grief which includes denial, bargaining, and down right anger! Denial showed up when he insisted on taking things out of the moving van as fast as we could put it in. Once we got to the new house, he took things out of the house and put them back into our van because, as he tells it, we were not staying here. It was a mistake. Denial is him taking decorations off of his wall and me waking to my decorations sitting on the dining room table, removed by him in the middle of the night. Bargaining was, “Okay, we will stay here for one month, then we will move back.” This continued as each month passed. That one was short-lived.
The one stage that has remained the longest is anger. He has cried, yelled, broke things (e.g. TV and computer screens, and not to mention - my back!) Yes, I said it, he broke my back. Specifically, in one of his “moving things” episodes, I attempted to put things back and he was not having it. It was a tug of war and I lost when I fell flat on my back and his 150 pounds of weight fell on top of me. An overnight stay in the ER revealed that I had fractured my back. It has been a painful uphill battle of recovery. I am still healing.
These are physical bumps and bruises. My biggest injury is to my heart. His anger is so overwhelming, that I have not seen him smile in months. It breaks my heart. Things that he used to enjoy, like playing his violin, playing with family, and just being around us have all dwindled. He locks his door and only comes out for school and food. I continue to rope him into fun things that we traditionally do on holidays like pumpkin carving for Halloween and gingerbread house decorating for Christmas. He did participate, begrudgingly, but he was there. It’s Christmas season and his first reaction to seeing the Christmas tree was, “We’re not supposed to have a tree in this house. We only have a tree in our old house!” For the sake of context, this is the first move that he has experienced in his life. I am seeing firsthand the “restricted and repetitive behaviors, insistence on sameness, and rigidity to change” aspect of autism. He is stuck in a repetitive cycle of denial and anger and not wanting to accept the change.
It has been 3 months now and we are steadily moving forward and hoping for positive changes to his behavior and his attitude about the house. As an autism professional, I went through my mind to take inventory of all the things I could have done to make this better. However, as I would tell any parent, you do the best you can with what you have. Being in constant physical pain and emotional hurt has truly made this a challenge for me. I am learning to be kind and gentle with myself and honor my feelings in the process. I still need to take care of myself to be able to take care of him.
I am thankful for my team of support, my husband, his sisters, his Autism Specialists (my employees), his understanding teachers and service providers. They all know how difficult this has been and they have been nothing but compassionate and caring to help make things better.
This experience has taught me to rely on the support of others and not tackle it all alone. I say to any parent who is experiencing a particularly difficult time with their child with autism, rely on your team, whoever that is for you. Do not and I repeat - DO NOT attempt to go it alone. You need help. Ask for it, accept it, and continue to take care of you. You deserve it!
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