“I’M GOING TO CUT YOU INTO PIECES!” screams my five year old son. “I’M GOING TO SMASH THE WORLD TO PIECES AND EVERYONE WILL BE DEAD!”
If this came from anyone else, it would range from being mildly disturbing to downright terrifying. However, coming from a three foot cherubim, whose blonde curls frame his beautifully angelic face, it’s just funny. Not that he’s aiming for funny. My boy is furious, and he wants us to know it. The cause of this particular outburst is nothing more than a bump to the knee (and my wife’s subsequent efforts to placate him). At least, on the surface it is. What really lies behind it is a week’s worth of pent up frustration, tiredness and upheaval. Or in other words, a week back at school.
He’s had an ominously quiet week at school. We’ve had the usual battles in the morning, the odd tearful episode at school, and his continued assertions that he’s done with school now. He even declared that he wanted mummy to be his teacher one morning. Has he really started considering home schooling? But generally, it’s been a good week. The downside is that he’s been increasingly fractious outside of school. He simply can’t cope with the upheaval, but rather than explode at school, he’s saved it for us.
Like most kids his age, he is unable to articulate exactly what is bothering him, so he finds another outlet. And after such a tumultuous week, something was bound to give. And so it was that with a minor scrape to the knee, all that pent up emotion came flooding out in an angry tirade and a display of raging temper.
I suppose we’ve all been there. Those moments when we vent our frustration on whatever is unlucky enough to get in the way (spouse, pet, arsehole driver who cut you up etc). As we grow up, we learn to find more productive outlets for these feelings.
I worry about my son, though. He seems increasingly to react with an uncontrollable anger to the slightest thing. It’s such a contrast to his usual happy self, and quite unpredictable. It occurs most frequently when someone is crying. B doesn’t do crying. He simply can’t cope with it, and reacts by going out of his way to try to hit the person crying (as if they weren’t upset enough). One thing I’ve learnt is that people get really upset when your child threatens to hit their baby. I recall reading Michael Blastland write about this very thing in his book ‘Joe’ (well worth a read). As I remember, his son attacked a baby in its pram, which sounds awful but is recounted with humour in the book. It is funny, but as I’ve discovered, far less funny when it’s your child who is the violent thug. And apparently, even less funny if you are on the receiving end. Thankfully, so far my son has only followed through on his threats a couple of times (regular readers might recall the ‘party incident’ from a few weeks ago). That’s unless you count his brother, who is increasingly on the receiving end of his wrath.
It’s enough of a problem to require the intervention of Autism Outreach. School were concerned by a few outbursts directed towards other students, prompting AO to write a social story entitled, ‘It’s okay to cry’. The story explores the reasons why people cry, before delivering its message that it’s okay to cry, with a picture of celebrated Scottish blubber Andy Murray. Unfortunately, B has decided he does not like the story, mostly because of the images of crying faces. It’s almost as if he can’t handle any sort of negativity or distress or the unhappiness of others.
This posed a problem recently when we were on holiday with my wife’s sister and her twelve month old baby. We’ve sometimes joked about the effect a new baby in the house would have on B. B is the baby and we think he would not take kindly to a new arrival. Not that it’s ever going to happen. I love my son with all my heart, but he is the best contraception ever. Whatever the original plan, our baby making days were over the day he was born. So sharing a holiday cottage with my sister in law and niece is about nearest we’re likely to come to having a baby. B coped well most of the week. Mostly he was disinterested, but as the week progressed he started to become more and more agitated by her crying. By the end of the week the threats of violence towards her had begun, and we had to physically stop him a few times.
This is utterly galling as a parent. I harbour deep fears of angry parents demanding the removal of the violent child from the classroom, followed by B getting his marching orders from school. And then follows the awful downward spiral, as my misunderstood child, unable to cope, becomes an adolescent with mental health issues and then… oh, god I can’t go there. The future is not a place I let my mind wander to very often, for these sorts of reasons.
Sometimes, he turns the anger on himself. He has been known to dig his nails into his own arm, screaming, “I want it to bleed”, or smack himself in the face. His complete inability to deal with his own emotions leads to, and I hate to be typing these words, self harm. It’s a frightening development. Are we going to end up with an out of control child? Will we be even more hopeless and helpless as parents than we already are? Tell me it’s a passing phase, readers.
But as I said, although these outbursts are more frequent, he’s mostly quite happy. I think we can take some credit for this. It’s easy to forget how expertly we negotiate the minefield that is my son’s emotions. We intuitively know what to mention and what not to mention, which battles to let go and which to fight. Others are not always as adept at maintaining calm. On holiday recently, I listened as grandad and Uncle P struggled to calm B, who was up earlier than the rest of us. I should have headed downstairs as soon as I heard the meltdown, but instead thought, “These extra twenty minutes in bed will make me a better father and besides, there are no sounds of things breaking yet.” Don’t judge me! Grandad was glad to see us when we finally surfaced, and probably a little saddened that he hadn’t known how to help his grandson.
The lesson to be learnt here is that my son’s best chance of coping is if he is understood by those around him. And making people understand is my job, or at least partly my job. If my son is lashing out angrily, then there is a reason behind it. There’s always a reason behind behaviour, good or bad. Having autism means my son cannot quite control his responses to situations or manage his behaviour appropriately. But that’s okay, because we’re here to help guide him through it. We’re here to make people understand.
Another thing he has said during an outburst, when he’s not happy with the way things are, is, “I WANT TO MAKE A NEW WORLD!” I’m working on it son, I’m working on it.