Periodically, and again recently, my wife pulled me aside at the conclusion of a melt-down by my 15 year-old son and – a bit angrily – asked, “Aren’t you just a bit tired? Don’t you EVER feel like you’ve had enough? Because I do and you don’t seem to be as harshly affected by the meltdowns and yelling and crying and CHAOS like I do. It never seems to be too much for you handle our two sons affected by autism. It’s not healthy to see you suppressing your agitation. You’re headed for a breakdown.”
I guess I never really think about it too much. I typically just do what I do. I just hang in there and try to keep myself in the most productive state of mind so that I can help my 2 sons affected by autism in the best way possible. I DO get tired, I guess . It CAN seem never ending, I guess. But I don’t (at least I guess) ever let that show outwardly. I DO, however, sleep pretty dang good at night. Just sayin…
You see, I don’t spend a lot of time THINKING about how hard it is or THINKING about how tired and worn out I can get WHILE it’s happening. I just try and address the escalations as they come… make the best of them… keep a positive attitude… and happily move on down the road.
But yesterday I came across an article by a wonderful, hard-working family whose writing was littered with the following quotes:
QUOTE 1: “My husband was in the fetal position wondering why our kids can’t get it together for 5-10 minutes without breaking down into fits and tears.”
QUOTE 2: “There was a lot of yelling, and a very frustrated parent who stood outside of his bedroom door, ready to throw in the towel.”
QUOTE 3: “Stop kicking the pew; I’m sorry, but I can’t give you popular names that start with every letter of the alphabet while I’m trying to listen; Lower your voice; If you can’t be quiet, then I’ll have to take you out.”
QUOTE 4: “Why does this have to be so hard?”
QUOTE 5: “After today, I feel like nothing works. I keep trying to have consistency, and make sure that he understands the rules and consequences ahead of time. I keep trying to stay calm. To be patient. To be understanding. But I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
QUOTE 6: “And when he doesn’t go in the right way, I wonder where I went wrong.”
And all these quotes all came from a fairly short article.
Sound familiar? I’ll bet you could add a few of your own regulars, huh?
It made me sad for the family because I get it – and start to really think about what it is that makes it so that I am able to – just like my angry wife says – be as unaffected (that’s code for beat-down and tired) as possible by the CHAOS and stay motivated and happy.
I can clearly think of a few things I would like to recommend that seem to help me.
First. I am prideful and competitive and I like to win. This may sound crazy, but here it is: Truthfully, I take serious pride in the fact that I handle things with a bit of patience and long-suffering. I really do get a charge when I “win” an encounter that is chaotic. And I almost always “win” each and every encounter. Let me explain what that means and what that doesn’t mean.
When I say I “win” it DOESN’T mean that one of my boys affected by autism “stops” a certain behavior or will never do it again. I can’t control that.
When I say I “win” it DOES mean that I’ve controlled MY behavior and had the patience to “stay with him” until his escalation has decreased or his crying has stopped or his yelling has subsided OR, he’s finally figured out that “threatening Dad with physical violence” (don’t kid yourself – he’s done it) does not work and does not get him anywhere. When I say I “win” it means I stay in the most productive state possible to help him EVEN IF he yells at or hits me or cries uncontrollably. I CAN control that. I CAN control how I react and manage myself.
Believe me, I have a plan to help my boys accomplish and learn and maybe even someday thrive. I WANT them to have it all. But I’ve learned that they aren’t always equipped to understand how rewards or punishments work. Very rarely can I incentivize, force, or distract my two sons affected by autism into correct or appropriate behavior. (NOTE: Those are the techniques I’ve effectively used with my other “typical” kids.)
So… I love them… even when it’s REALLY, REALLY hard to love them. That’s the second thing I do. Nobody will LOVE them like I do, so when things get a little hard, I “theoretically” LOVE the crap out of them. Seriously!
When my 15 year-old son has his fists balled up and is spit-screaming in my face (you know, when he’s SO escalated that spittle is flying out of his mouth and in to mine) that’s when I will not give in to any negative emotions. Keep in mind, I’m a fighter by nature so if YOU were to get in my face like that, I’d DROP YOU like a sack of dirt. But with my boys, I “fight” the natural urge to extinguish the problem with violence and force myself to try and love him more. It takes practice and I haven’t always been perfect, but I sure am making my very best effort to love him.
Another thing I do that I think helps me to “thrive in the chaos” and not get too worn out is to draw from past experiences. Let me explain:
When I was a much younger man I dabbled in a bit of boxing and there were a few things I left with – I mean aside from plenty of beat-downs and black eyes. First, I should have never boxed as I was not too skilled. Second, if you get mad and loose control in a boxing match and start to flail, you are going to get hurt REALLY bad. You MUST control your temper. That is VERY true with my boys. And third, you ALWAYS have something left in the tank. When your arms are heavy and you can’t lift them to punch, you CAN lift them to protect yourself – because it’s an absolute must. I learned that there is always more energy in reserve. ALWAYS!
After a tiring encounter in which I control my behavior and reactions (even if it is exhausting sometimes – and you know it is) I can draw upon that reserved energy and let my wife find me feeling… well… pretty dang good. I use the encounter to FILL me with confidence. I’m rejuvenated and uplifted because I feel that he is getting my best; and no matter how or what is happening, when I give him my best – and he deserves my best – I can feel okay.
If you’ve ever played competitive sports, you know the feeling. And you’ve certainly SEEN the feeling if you watch sports. Athletes give EVERYTHING they have during the game (they are absolutely physically spent) until the game is over and they win. THEN they prance around (that takes energy) they jump for joy (more energy) they chase their coaches and families down to celebrate with them (more energy required) and sometimes they even party in to the night. (Which requires MORE energy.)
Where is all this energy coming from? The JOY of their win seems to provide almost ENDLESS energy – even AFTER they are completely exhausted. That “win” energy is available to all of us. Use it when you are tired and feel like you are done.
And finally, one of the most important things we all must do to thrive is simple. Don’t set false expectations for yourself or them. These children are different. For us to expect them to NOT have meltdowns, or to NOT flip out when they are pushed, or to simply be typically, happy children may be a BAD expectation. Are they capable of having good days? Of course. And when they do, let it FILL you with joy, soak it in and be grateful. But stop being surprised that you and I have it hard because… well, we have it hard.
Don’t be surprised at a meltdown. Be READY. Create your plan for the encounter, follow the plan, win the encounter through love, allow the encounter to FILL YOU with energy and move forward with faith and hope.
You don’t have to suffer. You don’t have to get all worn out. You don’t have to struggle. You can “win” each and every day. Plus, you’ll sleep well at night because you’ll be SO tired. Being tired means you put in a great days work. Just sayin…