The weather is glorious in England at the moment. Very warm and sunny with a scattering of white clouds across pale blue skies. And in our gardens, parks and countryside there is a haze of fresh green as the trees burst into leaf. This is also the time of year that my favourite native flower, the bluebell smothers the floors of our woodlands and forests. It really is glorious to have such wonderfully warm weather during a particularly pretty time of the year and during the Easter break too when our children are off school. It lifts my spirits and makes me want to dig out the old picnic blanket and fill the cool bag with picnic goodies and head out somewhere with my family. Perhaps a visit to a National Trust property or a bluebell walk to share my childhood memories with my own children or even a cycle ride along the local disused railway or what about a trip to the amusement park or the seaside? The list of day trips seems endless doesn’t it, yet for me they are something I can only dream of as this Easter break has become difficult.
Difficult because my son has not coped with the change from being at school to being at home and as a result he has become agitated and anxious. You see, as an autistic person, he has a need for routines; it helps him feel less anxious because everything is predictable. Even though I can create some routine at home I cannot replicate the structure of his school week and so it is hard to keep my son calm. From the start of our enforced school break our son has been on edge – constantly arguing, shouting, eating, swearing, touching things and behaving in increasingly odd ways. These are common behaviours in my son anyhow; it is the sudden intensity and increase in them that indicates increased stress in my son that may lead to a meltdown. For those of you with autism in your household you will know all about meltdowns but for those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, I would describe meltdowns as a total loss of control. For many people meltdowns may resemble a severe tantrum but in fact my son’s meltdowns are something a lot more serious when he becomes angry, aggressive, easily confused, unable to make sound judgements and to reason or communicate properly. He becomes a very vulnerable person who is difficult to approach.
Of course I cannot understand what it must feel like for my son though he once did complain how his head felt “funny” immediately before a meltdown. Often he cannot remember a meltdown, sometimes he is agitated for days afterwards, sometimes he is tired, sometimes he recovers quickly but whatever format and intensity his meltdown takes, it is clear that it is a debilitating experience for him and a worrying experience for us. Consequently we have learnt to recognise signs of impending meltdown so that we can help our son and try and prevent a full-scale crash. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail.
This Easter we failed. It all started with a discussion about The Gadget Show being held at an exhibition centre in Birmingham. Now my family, including my son, are mad about The Gadget Show (I’m not by the way) and they watch it avidly on television every week. Not surprisingly my son asked if he could go to the ‘live’ Gadget show. I really wasn’t sure about it to be honest. I was concerned that the crowds and noise may be a problem for him and even more concerned that my son would not be able to leave the house as this would be a new experience and my son doesn’t do ‘new’. Nevertheless I decided that I would get some tickets and in the event that he couldn’t go or couldn’t cope then one of his sisters could take his place. So I went online with my excited son by my side only to find that all the tickets had sold out – I had got my dates all wrong and left it too late to book any tickets.
It is not the sort of mistake you can get away with when you have a child like my son who is already on edge and to prove the point, my son well and truly flipped. There followed hours of intermittent shouting, aggression and damage being inflicted upon our house which took on a further intensity later on that night. There is not much we can do when he gets like this except to create a calm environment and avoid the things that can further upset or overload him. In our case this usually means keeping communication and eye contact with him to a bare minimum while his meltdown eases and we are able to divert him to his favourite activities. On this occasion it took days for our son to recover. However he has remained edgy ever since and as a result our Easter break has become a subdued affair being spent at home and in the garden while my son enjoys his current new obsession – the x-box. Trips out are just not going to happen this Easter and my wish to walk through the bluebells will have to wait another year.