Search This Blog

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

It's Bloody Tough.

Harri's first 18 months of life were hard. Both for him and me. Those wonderful happy hormones that drench most mums at birth and promote bonding were plentiful, yet were swamped by the stress chemicals generated by raising such an unhappy and restless bub. He cried and whinged daily on what felt like a continual basis. He constantly demanded to be held, rocked, bounced or swung. Not the type to lie happily in his bouncer watching the movement around him, he was almost always in arms. But not cuddly. It was as if he was there under sufferance as the option of not being held was a worse one. I felt compelled simultaneously to help him yet to be away from his incessant demands. At around 8 months I was diagnosed with Post Natal Anxiety. And anxious I was. Always on edge. The biological mechanism that ensures a mother responds to her childs cries was overloaded, and I went into fight or flight mode. Of course I couldn't run, so was in a state of emotional chaos. This led to many unhinged moments, and a gradual lessening in compassion for my son and whatever was causing his unceasing distress.

My anxiety and gradual resentment of Harri's demands impacted on our relationship. Over time he became uncertain of whether I would meet his need for comfort. From his perspective I imagine I became unpredictable. So he became a daddy's boy. Part of me was thankful for the ability to step back and allow his father to meet his emotional needs for a while. And another part of me was heartbroken at this apparent rejection.

Through it all I suspected something unknown was driving Harri's behaviours. I knew there was a happy little boy in there, as he did emerge from time to time. Usually at the park on the swings. So I persisted in taking him to GP's, then a pediatrician. Finally just shy of his 2nd birthday we found the answer. Our little boy has Autism. The world had been freaking him out. I was overwhelmed with compassion for him. And some validation for me too.

Since that time our relationship has undergone a wonderful transformation. Not just as a result of his diagnosis but as he has become physically mobile and developed some language he has found ways to ease his frustrations independently. This has allowed me some much needed emotional breathing space. And finally, after a traumatic start, I miss him when I am away from home. My love for him is completely untainted by our tough start. And his affection for me is clear. He now seeks me out for comfort and entertainment. He trusts me to meet his needs and I feel so thankful for that.

But here's the thing. He is 2 and he is smart. And he has learnt how to manipulate his adoring parents by crying and whinging. He knows mum and dad will do whatever it takes to avoid tantrums as it generates flashbacks of a time we do not want to revisit. So yesterday when our ABA therapist said we need to start clamping down on some of his less desirable behaviours I felt trepidation. I finally reach a place where my child and I are emotionally connected and now I am being asked to start laying down the law. I am frightened of the impact this will have on us.

Intellectually I agree with the therapist. After all I have already negotiated the terrible two's and three's with my daughters. I know how important it is to teach impulse control, the meaning of no, that flinging yourself on the floor will not have more impact than using your words. I know all that. I want Harri to learn appropriate behaviours in order to attend school and not be the 'naughty kid' who disrupts the class with his antics. With a year to go before pre school, this is the time to start teaching him the social skills necessary to achieve this. Yet I still feel sick to my stomach. It's as if the struggle never ends. (Is that self pity I hear? Yes, yes it is)


  1. Self-pity? Perhaps. But perhaps not.

    Perhaps your trepidation has to do with something else. Impulse control is necessary, but Harri is still very young. Maybe he's not ready. Maybe you know that.

    Nobody wants theirs to be the naughty kid. Intellectually, it's a simple decision to say "impulse control is good, tantrums are bad." But children are not so simple. Just because the parents or the therapists are ready to teach impulse control doesn't mean the child is ready to learn impulse control. And that isn't a purely intellectual matter.

    If you look inside yourself and believe that Harri--or your relationship--is not ready to tackle this challenge, it is okay to wait. I'm sure you have lots of goals for your child and I'm sure there are some he's ready for and some he's not. If managing undesireable behaviors isn't one of them--or, if you have doubts--then pick something else to concentrate on.

  2. I think you are identifying my ambiguity well Stephanie. I'm not sure he is ready. I think I am avoiding potential conflict with the therapist by being 'a good mummy' and doing what I am told. Which inadvertantly makes me a lousy advocate for my son. Mmmm I have much to think about.

  3. I agree with everything Stephanie said. Also it's perfectly normal to feel worried about doing anything to disrupt the relationship you have developed now. You'll start when you are all ready and remember you've done this before, you can do it again and it will benefit Harri immensely.
    Here is another link that I hope will interest you, by an Aussie girl living in Ireland with two Autistic children

  4. Thanks Cybill, I shall certainly stop by her blog.

  5. Thanks Cybil, love the sammie blog.

  6. I was hoping you would. I don't know if you got that far in your reading but she has also developed an iphone application for communication with her daughter and for other auties who don't have the power of speech. She's a clever girl.

  7. Bobby was the same kind of baby; if he wasn't in my arms and nursing, he was screaming. It made for a hellacious couple of years (we switched to the bottle at 1, at least). Oh, and the screaming. The first several years (okay, the first 9) were very taxing. And I completely understand the desire to avoid those meltdowns anyway possible. And the desire for a break; enduring those meltdowns while you teach that behavior will not result in getting what he wants can be really, really exhausting to the point you want to meltdown.

    There's a book called No More Meltdowns that might be helpful. It wasn't available when Bobby was little, but is sure would have been nice if it had been.

    Bobby's 21 now, and I can relate that if you gird yourself in the conviction that you can and will teach your son that meltdowns are not acceptable behaviors and will not lead to positive reinforcement, he'll successfully learn that it doesn't get him what he wants and the behavior should reduce significantly over time until they are extinguished.

    Consistency in how you handle meltdowns is the most important part of it and so avoiding the meltdowns until you're mentally ready is better than going in half-hearted to it. You know what you're ready to handle.

  8. Thanks Kim, I need to be reminded that no one knows my son, and our capacity to weather the tough bits more than I. Besides my other two kids are great, so I must be doing something right.