The ear-piercing screaming.
You try to hold him in the shopping cart. Hoping the calmness of your body flows to him.
He grabs you by your hair and pulls it.
As you pull his hands from your hair, he gets your hands and begins to claw them with such ferocity.
You grab his hands and put them on the cart under yours. You see he has pulled skin from your hands. One area is bleeding.
The screaming continues and you feel his body pull back. You brace yourself as he headbutts you right in the cheek.
You squint your eyes closed. The sting you feel turns into a pound and small tears come out the side of your eye.
You prepare for the inevitable. You wrap him in your arms and pull him from the cart. You dodge the punches you can, accept the ones that land.
You turn him around so he is facing out. He will kick, he will headbutt, but you are prepared.
The screaming is louder. People stare at you as you wrestle to maintain control of this heavy, thrashing child.
You get to your car and get him inside.
If your husband is there the two of you force him in his car seat and lock him in. This is one of the few times you are still thankful he sits in a 5-point restraint car seat.
If not, you get him in the car, sit next to him and close the door, forever thankful for child locks.
In either case, you must wait for the storm to pass. You cannot drive. He will undo the seatbelt to his car seat and throw himself around in the seat.
He does not hear you, so you don’t talk.
If he starts to bite or claw himself, you restrain his hands.
And you wait. And wait. And wait for the storm to pass.
You wonder if you missed a simple step in his mental planned routine? Did he not get to touch something he wanted to touch? Were the lights too bright? Was the sound too loud?Did he not get to look at something he wanted to see?
He is too upset, he cannot tell you.
It might be twenty minutes, it might be an hour. When he has calmed, you secure him and go home.
When you arrive home, you clean up any injuries and hug him. If he is able, he will hug you back.
And then both of you rest.
I am so thankful Declan’s meltdowns have significantly lessened through the years. The events listed above were typical for almost every one of our outings. I am happy to say that as we learned what Declan was experiencing sensory wise, as his language and understanding increased, the meltdowns have lessened. Although they have not disappeared.
The autism meltdown is not goal oriented. The person is not in control, and may hurt themselves. They are not looking around to see if someone is watching the meltdown. They cannot see or hear other people. And the meltdown can last a long time. A very long time.
Declan has taught me about the meltdown. I never knew about it before him. He has taught me to not talk. To not get (too) emotional. To just wait – he needs me to wait. He will be back soon. In the meantime, I need to keep him safe.
And he always knows, no matter what, I will always love him.