It was a difficult night. Jake had been to the doctor earlier in the week with an ear infection so I knew he wasn’t feeling 100%. He was cranky, tired and everything that was going on around him was sending him into either a crying fit or rage. I could see the meltdown coming so I approached him with caution. In a gentle voice I let him know he had 5 minutes to continue playing then it would be time to take his medicine and get ready for bed. He screamed and ran away saying the infamous “NO!” He picked up a car and threw it then went over the sofa and threw the pillows. He didn’t want to stop playing; he was angry and went into a tantrum screaming all the while saying “no, bedtime, no medicine…Jake wants to play!” John and I were able to give him his medicine but he was still out of control. We both knew this was going to be a tough night; John didn’t want to leave but he had to get Allie from work. I have dealt with this behavior many times before (or so I thought) so I didn’t think it would be a big deal for him to leave.
I told Jake it was time to go potty and get ready for bed. He screamed “no” and ran from me. I told him we wouldn’t have story-time if he wouldn’t listen; he didn’t care. He started screaming and crying and then something changed. The look on his face went blank; he was lost. This is the best way I can describe how a tantrum moves into a meltdown. It was as if he couldn’t control his actions, he was blindly screaming, hitting, running. If there were a bystander in my home they would have thought I had lost all control of the situation. But I didn’t; my boy lost control. This is the part of autism that I hate. His brain may be telling him to do one thing but his body doesn’t hear, his body can’t react and he just screams. I sat with Jake in the floor trying to give him a deep pressure massage to help him find his calm. I couldn’t help him. He screamed and punched me. I held him tight trying not to lose it myself and he thrashed about with more screams. He was about to have an accident, I told him he needed to go potty which sent him into another tailspin of emotions. As he stood there crying my name he abruptly stopped and looked at me. All of the sudden these huge tears streamed from his eyes and he said “I’m sorry, mommy! I’m sorry, mommy! I’m so sorry, mommy!” My heart broke! And when I say it broke it truly felt like a knife was cutting into my heart ripping it apart. I knelt down to him and he clung to me. He wrapped his arms around my neck saying “I’m sorry, mommy” over and over again. I started to cry which turned into a sob…I just couldn’t hold it together in any longer. As I held my boy we cried together. Then Jake stopped crying and looked at me. He noticed my tears and touched them and through his own tears he said “Please don’t cry, mommy! Please don’t cry!”. He wrapped his arms around my neck as tight as he could begging me not to cry. I kissed him and hugged him tight and told him it was going to be okay. I did my best to dry my tears but they wouldn’t stop. I smiled at him and assured him it was going to be okay. I told him I was there and I would help him. We sat there on the bathroom floor for what seemed like hours; hugging each other. My voice was soft as I repeated it was all going to be okay and I reassured him that I loved him more than anything.
Jake eventually pulled himself together and got ready for bed. I read him a story, we sang our songs and I tucked him in tight. All the while his eyes searching mine, looking for signs that I was okay and I was, for the most part. He was asleep before I left his room. I watched him sleep. I watched how his little face transformed from a fitful sleep to one of peace. As I walked out into the hallway I lost it all over again. I wish I could explain in better detail how a tantrum transforms into a meltdown. I wish I could describe the anguish on his face and the look of vacancy in his eyes. This type of meltdown was not something I have ever witnessed. This was something different. I have read and heard stories about meltdowns since we began this journey but hadn’t experienced one of this magnitude until that night.
This meltdown lasted around 45 minutes. It wore the both of us out! But in the midst of the horrific event; and yes, it was horrific, he saw my tears. He saw I was sad and he did something he never ever does…he hugged me tight! Nearly a week later I can still feel his little arms wrapped around my neck hanging on, squeezing me. As awful as that night was I smile thinking about that moment; that glorious moment where my boy hugged me tight and told me it would be okay.
Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”