Transitions can be difficult for all of us, but particularly troubling for autistic children. One of the defining characteristics of autism is an insistence on sameness and routine. When a routine is disrupted the autistic child suffers. Anything I write regarding this will be an understatement. How can I describe the abject terror in Emma’s eyes when she cannot adequately communicate her fears and anxiety? I cannot.
Emma has had meltdowns, several in a day since we returned home. They tend to increase in intensity in the late afternoon, early evening when she is tired. When I examine the behavior it continues to baffle. Last night was a perfect example. I was preparing to go out when Emma who was listening to a music video suddenly screamed, “I need help!” And then bit herself on her forearm. The bite didn’t draw blood, but it was hard enough that we could see the teeth marks and it immediately began to swell. She tends to switch arms and so both of her forearms have bruises on them from previous biting.
“It’s not okay to bite, Emma, I said, kneeling down. “What’s going on?” I asked,
“No biting!” Emma yelled and then said, “I need help!”
“What do you need help with?” Richard asked joining us.
“You have to ask Mommy. You have to pull on Mommy’s shirt,” Emma said, mimicking Joe.
“Do you want to listen to a different video?” I asked, confused.
“NO!” Emma wailed.
“Okay. Emma, you have to take your thumb out of your mouth, so that I can understand you,” I said.
“Mommy, I need help to look for it,” Emma said.
“What are we looking for?” I asked.
Emma got down on her hands and knees and began crawling around on the floor.
“Em, tell me what we’re looking for?” I asked, joining her.
“I think she lost the foam to her earbuds,” Richard said.
“Em, are we looking for the foam?” I asked.
“Yes!” Emma wailed.
It turned out Emma had thrown the foam covering one of the ear buds onto the ground, for some unknown reason. Once the foam was found, I joked to Richard as I left, “I’m leaving, I may not come back.”
“I don’t blame you,” he said.
“My phone will be turned off, text me if you need me,” I said. When I returned home Richard looked exhausted.
“How bad was it?” I asked.
“Bad.” Richard answered.
After I left Emma went from one upset to the next, she cried about the video not downloading quickly enough, once that was fixed there was a missing photograph. See “Photographs” for more on this. And on it went through out the night until she finally fell asleep around 8:00PM.
Looking at my husband, I knew how he was feeling. There’s the thought of – I just need to get through this next hour. And once Emma’s fallen asleep the sense that the tenuous shred of hope we both desperately cling to is fraying.
“Do you want to talk about it?” I asked.
“I really don’t,” Richard said.