A Safe Place


Yesterday was a two meltdown day for Danny, and I heard that he also had a bit of a rough time at school.

We leave on vacation tomorrow. He is VERY excited about that. Excitement and hyper focus on an upcoming event means he doesn't sleep as well. A planned vacation and missing school also means a change in his routine. Even though it's a good change, it's still change, that needs to be internalized and adapted to.

All of this - excitement, lack of sleep, change... throws off his very delicate balance that we work very hard to maintain.

When his balance is off, everything is harder.

Disappointment is harder to cope with, it's harder to focus, it's harder to get work done, behavior is harder to control, impulses are harder to control, making decisions is harder, answering questions is harder, following directions is harder, initiating tasks is harder, transitions are harder, communication is harder, sensory input is harder ... everything is harder.

And when all of that is harder, and he's not managing his behavior well, and not following instructions well, and not handling disappointment well, and not communicating well, and all of those things... People get frustrated and upset with him, they lose their patience, they raise their voices, they rush him, they push, they threaten consequences, they take things away, they choose this time to dig in and make a point about enforcing the rules and expectations. And when all of that is happening, he gets even more off balance, and then everything gets even harder still.

And you can see where I'm going with this cycle.

He gets to a point where he actually can't cope. This is when the meltdown happens. Sobbing, yelling, screaming, trying to hit anyone and anything around him.

Nobody understands this.

They call it a tantrum. They call it bad behavior. They call it just trying to get attention. They call it trying to get his way. They think I'm letting him get away with behaving badly and treating people poorly. They think that I am rewarding bad behavior when I "give in to it".

But it's none of that. It is his brain and his body on total overload, completely out of his control, and completely overwhelmed. It is the totally overwhelmed system reacting to what feels like danger, to what feels like a threat. It is fight or flight. It is his brain fighting for survival when it feels like the world is crashing in.

It's not just an excuse to blame it on autism. This is autism. This is what it looks like. This is what it feels like. 

And when he gets to this point, he only wants me. He rejects everyone and everything else. He needs me to get him the things that calm him down - his lovies, his music, his few special toys. He needs me to hold him, me to comfort him, me to give him the squeezes and pressure that his body needs to calm down. He needs me to reassure him that he is ok, that everything is ok, that nobody is going to take me from him, that nobody is going to be mad at him, that nobody is going to take his comfort things away.

It's not coddling, it's not giving in to the behavior, it's not letting him get away with anything. It is helping him. It is doing for him what he needs in order to survive. It is doing my job.

I am his safe place.

I am the one person that he trusts when he is completely lost in this world. I can get him to calm down and come back to us. I can wrap myself around him and let him feel protected from everything that is overwhelming him. When he feels protected by me, and he starts to feel safe, he can start to relax. His fight or flight response can start to back down. He can start to come back.

He went to sleep last night sobbing, with me wrapped around him, his body fighting until it had no energy left. And then I went to bed, with nothing left.

It's a privilege, to be so trusted and so valued.

It is an honor to be welcomed into his world, for someone to have so much faith in you. But it also brings fear. I am afraid for him, for how he will be if and when this happens and I am not there to help him, to protect him for all of the misunderstanding.

It is also exhausting, and stressful, and sometimes overwhelming.