I thought I would give an update for the first week of Daniel’s summer enrichment program, that way he and I could have written memory of it. Keep in mind the week before my mom was in town and we not only socialized much more, but we also did several new things. In the past, for our family trying something new had the potential of taking anywhere from one day to three weeks recovery. A constant flow of socializing caused hours of Daniel being overwhelmed leading into nonstop meltdowns no matter how much he loved it or enjoyed himself. Though I admit it was (and is when it happens) tiring and taxing on me, my concerns for him trumped what I was going through. I will say it over and over again and I do not care how many times I repeat myself, it brings such joy to my heart to see him be able to enjoy himself and be happy before and after these things.
After saying all of that, the first day was intense to say the least.
Intense is the best word I can come up with to describe it because it was not a bad experience, but it was a rough one. Daniel and I have never been away from each other for that long of a period that was not a family member’s home or our own home. I had never left him in the hands of teachers or therapists. Have I been overly protective, yes. I felt it was my responsibility because he was unable to tell me if anything was wrong or had happened to him. However, I also did not have opportunities to do things like this for Daniel either. Had there been options that we could afford or been qualified for I probably would have tried them. (Cautiously and wisely) He has been able to communicate the things that are affecting him or causing him stress so this makes me more comfortable.
I also, trust the staff and the facilities so I feel this is a perfect fit for him to try such a big adventure.
I digress. I have a lot stuck in my mind. We prepared as much as possible for several days; they sent an email with pictures of the room, staff, and teacher. He had already met the teacher so that was a bonus. We discussed that I was leaving him for three hours, but then I would be back. We picked out the snacks he wanted, packed his backpack, and picked out the clothes he wanted to wear. I made sure that his morning went as peacefully as possible without any glitches. He was excited, happy, a bit anxious, but willing to give this whole unknown thing a try. He was still doing well when we got there, but then one of the boys happened to be loud. There were several who used loud vocal stims, which I expected and had already told Daniel about to help prepare him.
However, that being his first experience set the tone for him.
I watched his happy face turn to panic and fear. I did everything I could to help calm him, he wanted to leave. He was begging me to take him home. I couldn’t. I ended up staying in the room, but trying to let them guide him and help him. I knew that he was on the verge of full on meltdown, but I also knew that he had continued to try things and looked interested and curious. He was still watching the other children and I felt that he really wanted to participate. It was the sounds that were too overwhelming. The loud, unexpected sounds sent him into panic, but I listened to my “gut” and decided that it would benefit him to stay. I felt that I was making it worse by being in the room so I told him that I was leaving and walked out. I knew that the environment was a positive one and felt that they knew how to help them. It was hard though.
I heard him crying, and then after a little while he calmed down.
I tried not to look, but I was a mess so I checked on him and he saw me. Urg! He got upset again and calmed down. THEN, I thought I heard him crying and I could not control myself I went to check on him — he saw me and lost it again. I didn’t think he saw me though, but he did. It was one of the hardest things I have had to do. I questioned my decision the entire time. I sat in the hallway almost in tears and panic myself. I fought the urge to bust open the door, swoop him up, and save the day! I wanted to comfort him, tell him that it was ok, and take him home forever. I knew that I could not do that. I knew that Daniel needed this and so did I. He needs to learn from others. He needs to experience independence. He needs to learn how to be with his peers without me around. He needs the experience from other adults who care about him too.
With about a half an hour left the teacher came into the hallway and told me that he needed to use the restroom.
She said, “He gets upset every time he sees you.” She was kind and did not tell me to go — she could have. I knew that I needed to get out of sight, so I hopped up and ran out the door to my car. I sat in the parking lot for the remainder of the time and just kept hoping that my gut was right and that he was not traumatized or anything. I went to get him, his little brown eyes were puffy, his cheeks were red, but I could tell that he had not been crying for a while. I was so proud of him for sticking in there. He did try some things, which in my book was amazing because I knew how overwhelmed he was. We had gotten a solar-powered owl for him and decided to give it to him when he got home to help establish a positive trigger, just in case. There was a slight moment where he was getting upset again because his solar-powered flower was missing.
Solar-powered owl and me saying, yes, to going to the Dollar Tree helped bring some peace.
I could not say no. I knew how much it took for him to try all of that and to keep going. He worked really hard. I did not care if it felt like a reward or not. He deserved it! When we got outside, my fears and anxieties diminished. He was smiling and happy in an instant. I got him to the car; he took his headphones off and said, “Ok, we can go to the Dollar Tree now.” I was a little taken aback. I asked, “Are you ok Daniel?” He said, “Yes, I was just overloaded in there.” I asked, “Did you like it?” He said, “I don’t know.” I dropped it so he could process. I knew he would talk to me later, but I also knew that he did not say, “I am not going ever again or I do not want to go back.” If he does not like something it is done. There is no going back and he will have nothing to do with it. I let it go until later, when he was in a peaceful and jolly state I asked him about everything and we talked a little more.
He was proud of himself for staying and trying new things.
During our discussion though, I asked him why he had gotten so upset whenever he saw me. He said, “Because I wanted you to come get me. I thought I was going to live there.” Oh, my. I asked him why he thought that I would leave him there to live because I had repeatedly told him that I was coming back at 12 pm. He was not sure, but somehow in the midst of his panic state he had concluded that I was leaving him there to live and he would not be coming back home. Poor guy, that had to feel terrifying! I reassured him that would NOT happen. The next day, I fixed his noise reducers to muffle out even more noise. I went over the schedule; I told him that I would not be staying, but that I would be back at 12 pm. I told him that I would not go into the room with him anymore either.
I asked him what they did and went over that to help him become more familiar with the routine.
I explained different types of stims. He had a lot of questions about the vocal and noise stims so I answered all of his questions and reminded him that he too has some loud vocal and noise stims. He said, “Oh, yeah. I do.” I explained to him that they are doing what he does with his stimming and that helped him to understand. He has not experienced being with Autistic peers, some of them are verbal some are nonverbal in his class. They vary on the spectrum, I am pretty sure they all have some sort of language or communication delay/challenges. I reassured him all day long and the next morning that he was going to do great, have fun, and now that he knew what to expect he could feel more comfortable. He agreed with me. The next day of his class, I took him earlier so he could see the other kids arrive to help him prepare. He sat on my lap and watched them come in.
He was smiling at them and had a genuine enthusiasm to go.
I took Ariel and Joshua with me this time too for additional support and comfort for him. When it was time to go in he got up, said good-bye, and went to class. I had a feeling that he was going to do great and have a wonderful time. I was right. He did fantastic! He still has not decided if he “likes” it or not, but he is willing to go back and seems to be quite happy to be there. He will tell me when he is ready. This was only the first week; I am sure by the end of the eight weeks he will be upset that it is over. I will share more of what he is doing and learning as the weeks go by. This was a lot of emotions and growing for the both of us. I am very happy for him and excited to see how much more he does. I am not sure about this coming week, it could go either way because David is going out of town so my schedule will be off which makes the household routine all off. Plus, daddy being gone is always a change that takes getting used to.
I think it will be ok though, I have a lot of fun things planned — swimming, the splash pad at the Y, parks, training for their marathon, maybe some artsy stuff so I think it will all be ok.