SOA Wake Up Call

A Bad Dream or a Wake Up Call?

SOA Wake Up CallI had a nice article lined up for you today about Minecraft and life skills, but something happened to me this morning that I felt HAD to share with you. It’s a very personal experience and I’m really baring it all… I hope you don’t mind.

I awakened at 3 am, which has been happening for nearly three weeks for some reason. I performed my newly created middle-of-the-night rituals: glass of water, briefly let the dogs out, interacted with my teens (who are still up at that hour!), and became wrapped up in an episode of Law and Order SVU, which always seems to be airing on one of the crime channels in my cable rotation.

Trying to fall asleep to a crime drama is another story, so when panic set in about how much slumber I could squeeze in before my 5 am alarm I switched to the “Soundscapes” music channel and tried desperately to quiet my mind.

During that time I had an experience that rocked my very core.

I was fading in and out of sleep – you know that place where you’re dreaming but still aware of sounds and activity in your environment? That sort of sleep “purgatory”, if you will.

In the first part of the short dream, someone was outside our living room window, mowing our lawn, and the dogs were alert and circling like they do when a stranger is near our property. I remember thinking that my landlord had just mowed (which was true), so who was this person mowing my yard for a second time this week? Especially in December?

At this point, I could feel myself hyperventilating a bit in real life, sort of like when you’re dreaming that someone’s chasing you and you wake up out of breath – your body believes your dreams are real and tends to respond accordingly.

The next segment of the dream paralleled real life: I was lying in my bed trying to get back to sleep before my alarm went off. I was relaxing and drifting… then a wave of paralysis washed over me and I was sinking fast into darkness.

I liken this feeling to a time when I was hospitalized for a bad reaction to a diet pill and was given morphine in my IV to calm my racing heart. I felt the same paralysis wash over me and I couldn’t STAND it. I felt like I had no control of my body and was slipping away fast. How do people get addicted to that stuff, anyway? Who would want to feel so out of control voluntarily?

In the dream I was now falling fast into unconsciousness and I knew deep inside that if I gave in to it I would transition to the non-physical world. I tried to yell, “NO!” and violently shake myself out of it, but no words came. My head was made of cement and my eyelids were unbearably heavy.

I looked at the wall and saw a symbol of a dove SOA dove symbolappear (similar the kind you see in a Catholic church). I knew this meant death was here to collect me. “NO! Wake up NOW! I want to live!” I desperately tried to reason with my body.

More drifting. Panic. Fear. Fighting to keep my spirit anchored in my physical form… I could feel it stretching and rising and I was not ready. I AM NOT READY. I have so much work to do here. My children would go to into foster care. My dogs would get sent to a kill shelter. No. NO!

I managed to open my eyes and on the wall again briefly appeared a light blue poster that revealed a funny stick person and seven words: Appreciate Life One Day at a Time.

I yelled, “I will. I WILL!” My voice was back. And my alarm was going off.

I felt like Ebenezer Scrooge waking up to reclaim his life on Christmas. Not quite as joyful (yet!), but definitely resigned to looking at the choices I’ve made: the ones that are making me stressed, angry, and feeling hopeless these days.

“But this is an Autism Blog… how does this help me with my child?”

I learn from my beautiful boy every day. Perhaps two of the biggest lessons I keeping forgetting are these:

He lives in the NOW

He is wired for his own happiness

Due to my myriad freelance jobs we don’t currently have days off or vacation time, but he is happy. He Skypes with children all over the world. He sings, hums and laughs all day long. When he feels a surge of energy he gets up and runs around. When he feels mellow he shuts down his computer and draws. When he wants connection he hugs me and tells me he loves me. When he is hungry, he eats.

He does not compare himself to other children or worry about what people think of him. If someone is mistreating him, he simply chooses not to be around them. He doesn’t have a committee in his head that debates and struggles between letting someone down, putting himself last and building resentment because of it, and getting his needs met. He seeks pleasure and avoids pain. He is true to his gifts and strengths and accepts his shortcomings but doesn’t give up on improving them.

Was this experience this morning a wake up call for me to start living in the now? Stop putting myself last? Stop feeling so damned depressed (the holidays are the hardest for me every year)? Get more serious about my training work in the Autism community so I can be more fulfilled and present for my children? Make room for and attract friends and a support network?

What do you think? Was it real or just a dream? Either way, there was a message in it. Have you had any experience like this? I’d love to hear your thoughts or personal stories! Share by commenting below, on the SOA Facebook page, or by privately dropping me a line.

When Connections Are Made

One of the most perplexing characteristics of Autism that manifests in my son is his lack of ability to put together cause-and-effect connections. Because he is so ridiculously brilliant and advanced academically, it is easy for me to overlook typical actions such as burning his hand on the stove and then touching it again without pause, or messing with the dogs, getting snapped at (or even bit), and then repeating the behavior minutes later. He is perpetually surprised by a repeat consequence and often has no idea that he caused it.

Here is a normal evening scene in my house: I’m in the living room working on the computer, my daughter is on the couch drawing, and my son is in his room designing video games on his laptop. Suddenly he gets a surge of energy that MUST be burned off immediately, comes running down the hall and stops an inch and a half from my ear, then lets out a screaming phrase at his loudest volume.

I have had an array of responses to this, trying my best to reprogram the behavior and teach a lesson without losing my composure. I’m not very good at it.  From the gentle, “Sweetie please don’t do that” to “That hurts Mommy” to the futile “How would you like it if…”, I have not gotten through to him that it is not acceptable to emit sounds at close range that exceed 125 dB. (I’m being facetious here, but according to this Decibel Chart pain begins at 125 dB!)

What usually occurs with these repeat offenses? I try the calm and logical approach first. And second. And tenth :) Then it escalates. Especially when I’m exhausted and have a work deadline to adhere to. Sometimes I plead with him (mistake). By the umpteenth time, I unload. It’s not right, but it happens sometimes. Most of the time it has the same effect as any of my other tactics: nothing. Zoom. Over the head. He doesn’t listen, he doesn’t care, he is doing what he needs to do.

Lately, since the onset of precocious puberty, yelling has started to evoke a reaction of sadness and embarrassment. Of course I don’t capitalize on shaming him in any way, but something has been getting through. This is a golden window of opportunity, as his mind is temporarily freed from the pattern and he is able to hear what I am saying. After the last incident, I immediately took him somewhere quiet and talked about what just happened. I started with an apology for yelling. He retreated into, “You hate me” and “I’m stupid”. I then explained that I love him ALWAYS – no matter what – but I don’t LIKE his yelling in my ear. I calmly and appropriately told him why I didn’t like the behavior, and asked for his help in coming up with a new rule that we can all live with. We now call the living room the “quiet room”. He is welcome to make loud noises in the back half of the house, but in the quiet room we speak in normal tones.

Something happened after that conversation. Five minutes later, he had another power surge and came running down the hall screaming. He stopped in the doorway of the living room, walked up to me, and said, “Hi, Mom” in a nice, respectable tone.

What did I do? I told him I was very proud of him, did I high five, and made a big deal out of his conscious new behavior. You might think that makes me a foo-foo, new-agey, namby-pamby mom that celebrates when their child merely shows up for something. No. This is Autism. This is a connection. This is a MILESTONE.

I am not advocating that you perpetually get to the yelling stage and then backpaddle out of it like I did. But in this case I believe it shook something loose and got his attention. When I yell, I never say ugly things, by the way. It’s always matter-of-fact and focused on the behavior, but it IS yelling nonetheless.

What I learned

Instead of getting to the explosive stage, like I did, how about doing something to break the pattern? Something that would have the same affect but without the negative connotation? Try ringing a bell, using a radically different vocal tone, standing on your head, or anything unexpected. This will redirect the current behavior and get your child’s attention.

Explain briefly what the offensive behavior is (your child often has no idea what they are doing wrong), and why it is not okay. This must be spoken in clear, concise terms, not emotionally or vague in any way. Avoid our human nature to ask, “How would you like it if…”. It is common for children with Autism to lack the necessary wiring to experience empathy naturally – the question will go nowhere.

Ask for your child’s help to come up with a fun new rule that would make everyone happy. Make it clear that everyone must follow the rule. Bonus if you express a behavior that you are going to work on doing better as well!

This practice in my home has led to an increase in my son’s ability to start reading situations. Just the other day he came into the room and started bothering the dog, who immediately growled. For the first time ever he walked away and said, “Maybe he doesn’t like that.”


What about you? What helps your child make connections? Share your thoughts by commenting below or posting on the Spirit of Autism Facebook page!