Thursday, 23 October 2014

Hazard Ahead: Emotion Overload!

We are stuck at some traffic lights, which doesn’t tend to bother Bobby in the morning. Except this time we are stuck at green traffic lights. No idea why the traffic isn’t moving, and it’s 8.50am. The traffic lights change to red again, then to green – and still nothing moves. Some drivers start beeping their horns in general annoyance, although this isn’t really helping anyone.

“Urhhhhh!” I mutter in general frustration. “Why isn’t anyone going anywhere?”

Of course, the minute it becomes a problem for me, it becomes a problem for Bobby, too, ten-fold.
“Argggh we’re in a traffic jam! ALL YOU CARS ARE GROUNDED! This is ridiculous!” 

His arms wrap tightly around himself as the mood of general huffiness in the car takes on a red hue.

This is not the time to be having a meltdown, but as we finally get moving and Bobby quickly apologises for his outburst (something he tends to do a lot – outburst with apology following hot on its heels), I just reply: “It’s okay, I was getting annoyed too.”

If I feel excited, I can keep the emotion in my head. If Bobby feels excited, the feeling can’t stay in one place, it causes overload quickly, overtakes his body and he flaps his arms. 

So it’s not really surprising that the sort of “Grrrrrrr!” that goes on inside my head, but is kept in check when I get annoyed  (only visible through my hands, which are clenching the steering wheel)  is something that Bobby finds hard to emulate. 

If the situation is frustrating, a stream of words will surely follow. If I interpret those words as the general sentiment ‘GRRRRRR!!’, and I gently acknowledge that he’s feeling pretty ticked off, all is well. 

If I start responding to the actual words themselves as if they are sincerely meant, I get into real hot water. So at this point, if I were to say “Bobby you can’t walk to school on your own, you’re too young!” it’d end up as in-car road rage and not a great start to the school day.

Bobby’s words are like a tiny storm that passes quickly, a dream-like jumble of words that spring to the surface to give his abstract frustration some solid form. Their meaning, though, is more echolalic than anything else. They’re just a cut and paste job of all the stressful situations he’s experienced, translated into vocal form.

He’s in Year 6, he has more responsibility – and this can mostly be suppressed. However, when the traffic lights are green and the traffic’s not moving, up it bobs to the surface like some unwanted Wellington boot that you thought had long drowned. 

There is so often an underlying state of anxiety in autism that it isn’t very surprising that our kids experience overload quite often. The most we can do is teach them how to deal with it (THANK YOU to Dawn Huebner for her book What to Do When Your Temper Flares) not minimise its importance but not rise to it either. 

So if you’ve got to 9am on a weekday morning and you haven’t lost it, take the rest of the day off.   

Tell your boss I said so.