It was only 9 a.m. and I was already exhausted.
Our morning started out very well, until Tosh made a traumatic discovery.
His favorite toy, Buck from one of the Ice Age movies, was missing.
In retrospect, this morning's drama represented progress. Tosh didn't used to care about his toys. If one broke, he'd throw it in the trash without a care. Now that he's gained new cognitive functions and awareness, he's become attached to his toys.
That means when one is lost or broken, he gets upset like a neurotypical kid would. Except he has nonverbal autism, so it's more difficult.
And then you throw my sensory issues into the mix. Specifically, noise sensitivity. When Tosh gets so upset he can't communicate, he makes this high pitched whining noise that shuts down my ability to communicate. I mean, it literally scrambles my brain.
Oh, the irony of autism. Parents in the spectrum are in many ways the least equipped to deal with it. However, if we acknowledge and gain awareness of our own sensory issues, we can become the best parents our kids could possibly have because we understand them better than anyone else in the world.
When I become overstimulated by Tosh's meltdowns, I retreat to the next room alone to calm down. It only takes 15 to 30 seconds for me to refocus, and during that time, Tosh often calms down a little bit, too.
However, today it didn't work because ...
Today is trash day. Tosh was very worried that Buck was in the trash bin and as the garbage truck approached, Buck would be lost forever.
I knew he wouldn't - he got lost somewhere between the bathtub and the bedsheets - but that fact didn't relieve Tosh's anxiety. He became so upset he couldn't even communicate to me that the garbage pickup was triggering his meltdown. He kept pointing outside, and I asked him a few times if he was worried that Buck was in the garbage, but his reaction was no different than his response to my incorrect questions about the source of his anxiety.
At one point Tosh ran outside in his pajamas screaming and crying. Thank god my neighbors all have personal experiences with severe autism and/or know Tosh well enough to understand. My odds of having CPS called are relatively low. (Make the attempt to know your neighbors, folks. It's very important, not only to keep the peace but give your child somewhere to go to ask for help if something happens to you.)
Eventually, I calmed him by discussing how toys get lost all the time, but it's nothing to worry about, because we can just buy a new one.
NOTE: That might have been a lie - I found Buck and his Ice Age friends on eBay and I don't know if there are more. Buck came from a Chinese collector and it took a month for him to be shipped here.
Tosh finally calmed down enough to get dressed for school, but he was still sad. He didn't want another Buck. He wanted HIS Buck.
I looked in the bathtub one last time, and that little rascal was there, hiding in a cup. Man I hate that toy. He gets lost all the time - the others in the set don't do that - and I swear he disappears into some interdimensional black hole when you look for him because he's not there, until the fifth time you look in the exact same place, and discover he was there all along.
So now that the case of the missing toy has been solved, I leave you with two parting thoughts.
Acknowledge your own sensory issues. Allow yourself to have them and apply the same coping techniques therapists teach your child. Allow yourself to fail the first few times. You'll figure it out, and life is all about progress, not perfection.
Nobody can find a missing toy or communicate when they're upset. Tosh and I had a discussion about that once he had calmed down. When we are upset, I explained, we can't communicate what's wrong and when we can't communicate, we can't solve the problem. But when we calm down, together we can fix anything.
We also congratulated ourselves for doing a good job of calming down (eventually) and finding Buck. A couple of years ago, I would have lost my shit and started yelling, and he would have escalated into a full scale meltdown. No school for him and no work for me, which would mean even more stress and meltdowns and misery. Things could have been so much worse but there weren't. And they will continue to get better.
That's all we can expect from ourselves, isn't it?
Heather Anderson is a blissfully happy autism mom and lover of life in Southern California who is on a mission to help autism parents rediscover their happy place.
Please join me on this beautiful autism journey. The Autism Oasis is a fun, supportive and educational community where your personal development is just as important as your children's. You are more than just a caregiver!