today while loading some of my older poems onto one of my webpages i came across one entitled “day one”.
it was funny looking back on what i thought would become of my attempt at homeschooling ziona. and to be completely honest, i’m not sure that from time to time i haven’t been *this close* to checking into the local funny-farm. quite probably it isn’t a stretch to profess that i have at least figuratively, found myself banging my head against a wall.
autism has many ways of presenting to the world. just as neuro-typical persons have each their own way of interacting with situations in their everyday life, so too the neuro-diverse, like those with autism, have their own very unique way of approaching things. but many children with autism share the same tendency to tantrum that ziona exhibits.
if it only happened when she is called upon to cooperate with her homeschool lessons such fits of anger would be only an enhanced version of the dislike and frustration most any child feels at being made to learn such previously unnecessary skills as ‘cursive handwriting’ or comparative fractions and decimals. if it only happened when she can’t remember how to spell the words on her weekly list of words to remember how to spell, it would be quite understandable.
but from as far back as my slowly aging memory extends with regard to zee, she has had much difficulty in the area of patience. when younger she used to ‘stim’ by spinning wheels on toy cars lain on their backs to this end, or staring into the ceiling fan, watching water pour from the bathroom sink’s spiggot or even waving her fingers in front of her eyes while staring, as if , right through them. these are some of the ways in which some kids with autism cope with the inability to self-calm from which many suffer,
these days ziona doesn’t use such means to offset her frustrations. instead she rages. and by that i mean RAGES! it is this aspect of teaching her that gives us the majority of our problems. and just so everyone reading this who hasn’t had the dubious pleasure of witnessing a true ‘rage!’, can put this into perspective, let me describe a usual progression.
first she screams. then she pounds her fists, or the pencil held in her fist, into the table. then she becomes verbally abusive to me, even threatening to do me bodily harm. then she lays down and flails her arms and legs about while screaming, then she accuses me of thinking she’s dumb, or some such thing, then when she is made to go to her room,(if she goes without a struggle) to calm down, she rages from in there for a bit longer. then she starts hating on herself, she cries uncontrollably, starts calling herself dumb and other such things…she cries more, is overcome with remorse for how she’s behaved and says she deserves to be hurt, then she attempts self-harm.
at that point i force open the door, which usually she has slammed behind her and attempted to barricade, take her into my arms, hug and kiss her tears away. i tell her that she deserves only love. she cries and asks me how can i forgive her. i tell her that she always has my forgiveness and suggest that she learn to forgive herself. we walk back to the lesson area arm in arm to start again.
this same sort of outburst used to happen far more frequently and for little or no reason at all. she has improved greatly. having learned to use words to communicate has helped her to verbalise her emotions, but it has also given her a new way to lash out, to tantrum. and altho such occurrances as the one described above happen at least once a day, either in response to lessons or some other thing that frustrates her, it seems like heaven around here, compared to how it was when as a younger child i could expect at least 9 or 10 of such blind rages per day.
one day, after lessons…after lessons had taken up the whole of the day, right up to her bedtime, we had an enlightening discussion.
i asked her what does she gain from raging like that. her answer was wise and nearly blew me away! she told me that just like swearing when you stub your toe makes it seem less painful, her tantrums actually are a way for her to achieve calm, to alleviate her psychic pain. it was then i began to understand. this is her new version of ‘stimming’.
whether this is really a better way to self-calm than going into the bathroom and running the tap for minutes at a time while staring at the cascade of water, or gazing into the ceiling fan, or shaking her hand in front of her face to watch her fingers make trails of themselves in her visual field, i can’t say. but her being able to explain the ‘why’ of her tantrums…in such a succinct and simple manner, has done much to alleviate my worries about whether such behaviour will last forever. i’m convinced it will not.
just as she left off some of the ‘stims’ of her babyhood in lieu of the ‘tantrums’ she employs today, i know one day she will find more appropriate ‘stim’ to meet the reality of whatsoever her environment and circumstance.
as for me, i haven’t gone insane just yet. and since our little ‘talk’, and my subsequent understanding of her process, my patience levels have increased.