The tantrum effect

This is not the post I was going to write today. But I was overtaken by events.

I tried to collect my child from school. Hands up, I was running a bit late and had for once picked him up first so was trying to get him ready so we could go get his sister.

He was not playing ball (excuse the analogy). Things were not going well and before long he was cross.

I must admit, so was I when he threw his bag at me so the contents I’d just struggled to get in it (whilst it was on his back and he was not staying still) fell out.

I walked out of the classroom before I got really angry and told the teacher (on the steps outside) I would get his sister first.

She sent me back in as she had a meeting to go to.

I can see her point, but honestly, at that point, ignoring was what he needed. A little help would have been appreciated (after all, I get him to school, surely they can help him leave). Would it really have been the end of the world if I’d had to get him from the office as the teacher was busy?

Anyway, I went back in and got him out and he shouted, yelled, screamed at me all the way across the road to his sisters class, all the time I talked to his sisters teacher and his sister (trying to give her attention instead of him), all the way to the mobile shop and all the way inside. I mostly ignored him. I did stop him hitting me (unusual), kicking a drainpipe, kicking the bike shelter, yanking things on the mobile shop. I did acknowledge a couple of times as he was poking me “I know you’re there, I’m ignoring you right now”. I removed him from the shop van a couple of times as his behaviour wasn’t appropriate and explained he wouldn’t get to choose a snack if he couldn’t behave.

I don’t know if this was the “right” way to deal with him. I haven’t had any training*. I just know that engaging with him in any way makes him worse, ignoring him makes him worse, but I stay calmer if I ignore him and surely that’s better.

I think it lasted about 15 minutes. Needless to say, at some point, he flipped out of it and has been fine since. (Well, not as calm as I might like, story of my day, but not actually cross anymore). I, on the other hand, am still suffering from the after effects.

mood over time graph

mood over time graph

I tried to draw a graph, to show how his tantrum effects us differently. The rise from calm to meltdown is fast for him, and so, with a few wobbles, is the descent. For me, I can stay fairly calm at first, I can even act calm when I’m not (that spike is me walking out of the classroom as I’m about to lose it with him), but then I’m still agitated well after he’s not. I ran out paper at that point, the graph loses accuracy, my raised anxiety levels last much longer than his tantrum did. Three hours later I’m still not quite down.

*School, with the exception of one teacher, seem interested only in managing his behaviour at school. When I mention his behaviour at home they are polite butseem only interested in how home behaviour impacts at school. To be fair, I have been invited (by a leaflet sent in his book bag, nothing addressed to me) on a “Solihull parenting course”. I have read a lot of parenting books – they mainly contain common sense, the things I try and do and act as reminders rather than giving much in the way of “new” tricks and tips. I strongly suspect this parenting course would be the same. If I thought it had specific help for kids on the Autistic Spectrum, that might be different, but no-one has said it does.

Family resemblences

So, last night I was still upset about trying to communicate with school, today I’ve taken a step sideways. I wanted to leave it for a bit, calm down, let my subconcious work out what to do. Instead I find myself noticing all the ways I’ve reacted that show similarities in some way with my son.

I don’t like confrontation. A teacher defending herself and the school by explaining to me that they think they have communicated with me (when I’d pointed out I thought they could do better), just makes me think that she’s cross with me. So I get upset. Actually I don’t know if this is like him. But it is definitely true that I don’t like confrontations and I don’t like feeling like I’ve made people cross, especially not people I like and respect.

Like him, I don’t like surprises. I didn’t realise this. I think I cope with surprised much better than him, but maybe that’s just because my added life experience makes me expect a wider range of possible events. But I wasn’t expecting you to talk to me about what I’d written when I’d emailed it to someone else and she’d replied. I thought I understood the rules of communication. I talk to you, you answer me. I email her, she emails me back. But I email her and then you talk to me about it. This I don’t get. Does this mean I struggle with the rules of communication? Or do schools just have different rules from the rest of us.

I don’t like things that don’t fit, things that are uneven, things not as they should be. I find my son doesn’t cope with things that don’t fit into his scheme of logic, so maybe this is another way we’re similar. Anwyay, this one is a big part of my reason for being frustrated that I didn’t know about this Thrive documentation. Because, Mrs Senco, you told me I’d seen all his school records, and then you told me that he didn’t have an IEP because you were using different documentation that I didn’t know about and haven’t seen. And I like my equations to balance. And All His School Records does not equal All His School Records Apart From One. And this irks me. The unbalancedness of it, the uncompleteness of it. Please don’t think I think you’re deliberately misleading me (I don’t) or that you’re using the wrong records (I don’t). Take this as me gently marking your work in green pen, that X = X-1 is wrong, so that you can realise your mistake and learn from it.

Also Mrs Senco, I printed out and re read your SEN policy last night. It says mentions Home School Action Plans (which I think are the new IEP’s) and that children on a school action should have them. But it doesn’t say unless we’re using Thrive documentation instead. Again, you may think that I’m arguing for him to have a HSAP, well I’m not. Or that I think Thrive documentation is inferior to an HSAP, which I don’t. What I think is that if your policy is in some cases to use Thrive documentation instead of HSAP’s to avoid duplication, then it should say so in your SEN policy. Because it’s your policy, you wrote it, so why would you write something down that’s different to what you actaully do. This does not make any sense in my world, it is a flaw that irritates my logic, and I don’t like it.

And I get frustrated when I don’t feel I’ve been listened to, when I think someone has missed my point. I find it difficult to move on. I just want to repeat the same things over and over again. Whilst getting crosser. Just look at this blog post. On some levels this is very like him.

Keeping it in the family (an eye opener)

When we started off down the road of finding out if our son has an Autism Spectrum Condition (I’ve decided I prefer this term to Autism Spectrum Disorder, which implies there’s something wrong with him, which there isn’t) we did a lot of reading about Asperger Syndrome and ASC. You don’t have to do very much reading to find out there’s a genetic component, my understanding is that if someone is on the autistic spectrum, the chances are that a family member of theirs is too.

Now nobody in our family has a diagnosis of any ASC. But I have long wondered if one of my brothers is on the spectrum. As a layperson he ticks a lot of boxes for me, very intelligent, not so great at social interaction, in particular he seems uncomfortable around more than a couple of other people at a time. OK, so that’s not an exhaustive list but I feel a little uncomfortable going into more detail incase it turns into a rant about all the things about him that annoy me (let’s face it, all family members annoy sometimes, and one’s that are clearly operating to a different set of rules to the rest of us can be a little frustrating to cope with at times, for the record I also greatly admire him). Also, a friend of mine brought the question up with me after meeting him and her sister has Asperger’s Syndrome, so it’s not just my opinion. I’ve never brought the subject up with him, because I just cannot imagine how to drop it into one of our rare conversations and I can’t see how my mentioning it would “help” him at all.

I also watched a documentary (can’t remember what it was called, a BBC one, recent) where they discussed that everyone is on the Autistic Spectrum. It’s just that, a wide spectrum, with very few people at one extreme having no autistic traits, very few at the other extreme having a lot of autistic traits, and most of us somewhere in the middle, with a few traits (if the phrase makes sense to you, it’s a classic Bell Curve). But having a few traits is normal and doesn’t mean you get a diagnosis of any ASC. How many traits you have to have before you fall into the category of diagnosis seems to be a bit subjective and also may depend upon how well you’re coping with them.

Well, when you start reading around the subject then you start noticing Autistic Traits everywhere. It’s a bit like suddenly noticing pregnant people when you’re pregnant, or all the cars around that are the same model as your new car. For me in particular, I then started noticing possible traits in my mum. For instance, as a teenager, I was surprised by my friends talking about how her mum had gone out with her friends recently. After all, mum’s don’t have friends do they? Mine certainly didn’t, there were people she talked to, but not friends that she met up with. I’m much less certain of my lay diagnosis here, but then again I understand that Aspergers can be much harder to diagnose in women.

So far so vague, I’m sitting there picking out possible traits in family members, I’m not sure if this is just due to raised awareness / having such things on my mind or if it’s to subconciously shore up the case for a diagnosis for my son in my head.

Then a couple of weeks ago my husband asked me about when I close my eyes when I speak to people. This is something I’m only vaguely aware of. I’m not sure how long I’ve done it for, I can’t even remember when I found out, I know that someone told me, maybe when I was a teenager. And I’m not aware when I do it. But apparently I sometimes shut my eyes when I talk to people. Which I must admit must look wierd, but it’s not something I feel able to do anything about, and it doesn’t bother me much as I’m not aware of it so I don’t think about it.

He was asking in relation to the children, because apparently I tend to do it when I’m cross with them, and then he can’t give me visual clues that he thinks I should calm down, or catch my eye to get me to let him have a word in edgewards. He also says that sometimes when I open my eyes and then they’re not where I expected them to be (because they’ve moved when I was talking and I couldn’t see that) that seems to make me cross.

I started to try and explain that I’m not aware of it. But I realised that it was more than that. If I just shut my eyes for a bit, surely I should be aware of jumps, as people have moved, a bit like when strobe lights flash on and off. And I don’t. I’m not only not aware they’re shut, I’m also not aware that there’s a break in my visual input. So it’s not just that my eyes are shut, it must be that my whole visual input to / processing of the visual in the brain must be temporarily turned off.

And then it hit me. It chimed with what I’d been reading about sensory overload in people on the autistic spectrum. It chimed with what I’d come accross about stimming being a way of blocking out senses that are too much to cope with. I got a wrenching feeling in my gut and everything inside my head twisted sideways slightly.

When I write it all down it doesn’t make much sense. It sounds like I’m saying that I think my brother may have Aspergers becuase he doesn’t talk to me much and I’m now wondering if my mum does too because as a teenager I didn’t hang out with her friends. In particular what I’m saying about me doesn’t make much sense, partly because I’m not quite sure what I think I’ve worked out.

I don’t know what I think about me. I’m kind of a functioning member of society (I say kind of, this blog was started because of my mental health issues after all) whose managed to do things in the past, like get a degree and hold down a job (not that any of that means someone doesn’t have an ASC). I’m also aware that part of my worries about my son are because I remember having a hard time at primary school, being a book worm, knowing all the answers, not fitting in, getting teased, having no friends. I still often feel that I don’t fit in, I have a little niche carved out, but I’m certainly not typical. And I’m still really bad at taking over conversations and talking too much.

What I mean to say is that revelation (for that’s what it felt like) that I had really shook me up, really upset me. And I’m not quite sure why. After all, I’m very positive that if my son does get a diagnosis, it’s not a problem, he is how he is whatever any medical professional says, the difference I hope that a diagnosis would make is to help change the world around him a little, so others (school, family, etc) make a bit of the effort to accomodate how he is rather than him having to make all the effort to fit in with the rest of the world (and I’m pretty sure he’s making a huge effort and that’s part of the reason he gets so tired and has the tantrums). I’m also quite happy theorising diagnosis for others. But for me. For me it’s upsetting. The recognition that maybe I have some strong ASC traits turns my world upside down and churns me up inside. And that doesn’t seem like a “nice” reaction. After all, if I really am all for equality of worth of people with ASC what’s the problem if I need to adjust how far along that spectrum I place myself? Does my reaction show up my hypocracy?

I’m still not sure I’ve managed to explain why it felt like such a big deal, but believe me it did. I was really upset and shook up. And then in the days to follow it gave a lot of fuel to Bitchface/InnerCritic, to point out every little piece of behaviour that might be “aspie”, to judge all my interactions with others and find them failing, to point out that I’m probably coming accross as really strange and annoying to whomever I’m talking to.

So I did what I do best, I tried very hard to ignore it and hoped it would go away. I have thought that I should write a blog post, but I never seemed to get further than that thought.

And tonight, tonight I think I’m trying to sort out all my emotional baggage and get it stored neatly away, for tomorrow we get to meet the educational psychologist.

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P.S.

So, after I wrote this post I had the idea of doing an internet search on “talking with your eyes closed”. I guess I thought I might find some medical explanation or something, or maybe have it as part of a list of symptoms for something. Turned out to be a big mistake. The search turned up people asking about why others do it on discussion forums. The general opinion seemed to be that the people doing it were wierd, looked stupid and felt themselves superior. I may well be wierd and look stupid, but I certainly don’t feel superior. Anyway, lots of food for Bitchface/InnerCritic/VoiceofDoom.

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P.P.S

If you’re thinking that I have a bad case of melodramatic hypocondria brought upon by over exposure to the internet, don’t worry, Bitchface has that one covered too, big style. (Her ability to beat me over the head with contradictory arguments knows no bounds).

Listening

Whilst yesterday was mainly good, I did end up staying up far too late in the end messing on the internet and I have been tired today.

The reason I stayed up too late was because I was sulking. Whilst I’m not sulking now, I’ve been mulling over the reason all day in the background. Trying to tease out what is actually going on.

Before I expound, I want to say that my family is great. I have two lovely kids, who are generally well behaved but have their moments, like most infant school kids. And a wonderful supportive husband who does more than his share, what with working full time, being a hands on Dad, putting up with me obsessively sewing until midnight and coping with me when I’m feeling stressed and picking up the slack around the house.

So, you guessed it, the reason that I was sulking was to do with my family. Like all family, we sometimes rub each other up the wrong way. Last night I was frustrated that hubby hadn’t heard a couple of things I said, in particular that Yes I would like him to cut me some bread too (after my answer he cut two pieces, buttered them and then ate them in front of me) and please don’t put the laptop away as part of your tidying up (I wanted to use it) – he then put it away.

Now, these things on there own are rather minor. But I had a narrative in my head of not being listened to by anyone and I felt extremely frustrated. There is some basis for that narrative. For instance earlier husband and I had had to rehave a conversation and remake a decision – I clearly remembered doing this before (not least as I was surprised at hubby’s proposed solution) and he was adamant we’d not previously discussed it. This is not really surprising, we have two small children and don’t get that much time to talk to each other without being interrupted, plus he has had a very busy few months at work and done lots of overtime, which puts more strain on our communication system (amongst other things). It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t value what I have to say. It means that we need to make more time to talk to each other and get better at listening.

That’s another thing, as a household we’re not very good at listening. There’s always a lot going on and people are shouting reminders (“Have you brushed your teeth yet?”) and moving about whilst continuing conversations, so you find someone starts talking to you and then walks away mid sentance so you can’t hear them. Or walks off instead of answering you. And generally we’re a pretty talkative bunch with a tendency to interrupt each other.

And of course my kids are not always good at listening to me which is not surprising as often I’m giving them things to do and checking up on them. And when they do hear me, I can’t tell, because they’re fiddling with something and staring in the other direction and don’t answer (or answer in a mumble I can’t hear) and then immediately start a new topic of conversation.

All this is fairly normal with kids, and I think maybe a little worse than normal with our two as one has a tendency to retreat into a daydream and block us out and the other one is easily distracted and his teachers have recently told me how frustrated they get saying his name over and over again all day to get his attention.

But as a full time parent, the majority of my interactions in a day are often with my family, so that feeds into me taking it so personally. It can feel like I spend my life being ignored by the rest of the people I live with and that no matter what I say nobody is listening and that is very frustrating and can end up with me feeling like a second class citizen in my own home. Hence the sulking.

Of course, how I’m feeling in general affects how well I cope. When I’m feeling on top of things I’m calmer, I take things less personally, I have more patience and I find it easier to think of different strategies to try to get my children to do what I want. When I’m not feeling so great I have less patience, I’m quicker to anger, I don’t want to compromise (it’s My Way or the High Way), so I start battles with my children instead of changing tactics. And then I get frustrated at how much effort everything is taking. (Hmm, I think I maybe starting to open a bigger can of worms here than just the listening problem, that last paragraph is more how good I am in general at parenting depending on how good I feel in general, and of course they feed into each other.)

So, what next with the listening? Well, first I want to sit with my mulling. I have tried to discern what is going on in my head and I think just acknowledging it is a start. I don’t want to leap into solutions mode (I find it frustrating when someone that I want to listen to me leaps straight into giving me answers of what I can do about it, when I don’t want answers, I just want someone to listen). And I need to be aware of how I’m listening to others, I need to try and make sure I’m paying my family proper attention and model how I want them to behave.

And I need to talk to husband about this, I know he finds it frustrating too, and check our informal policy of promoting good listening and see if we can improve it any.

And I think I need to acknowledge that one of my children in particular has difficulty listening, for various reasons, and that it’s ok to find this frustrating, but I shouldn’t take it personally. And maybe I need to reasses my definition of what good listening and answering looks like and compromise a somewhere a little more acheivable for my children (who like many children don’t always want to make eye contact for instance).