This has been a tough few days for Michael and I. Michael’s anxiety and anger have been touch and go, but I have to say, as hard as it has been watching him suffer to learn self-regulation with all his challenges, the joy of seeing him “get it” when he does, is incredible. He will make me laugh when he sometimes purposely tries to use his autism and adhd as excuses when he is acting inappropriate. I call him on it each time, reminding him that yes his brain works differently and he is neuro diverse, but that is not an excuse to be aggressive or rude. I remind him how many neuro diverse people out there follow the rules of safety and respect, and that he is capable of it too. After all, at school he does wonderfully, at least on the outside.
He has confessed to me on more than one occasion how he pushes his anger down and screams and curses on the inside, but not out loud. I tell him it is ok to be angry, but that anger or anxiety out of control is dangerous for him and others around him. He worries so much when he loses his temper and calls us names, makes aggressive comments or throws things. I have learned to remain calm, redirect him to a calm spot. We have several different signals and words we are experimenting with using. And then when he calms down, he is always remorseful and thanks me for giving him a chance. I tell him to keep believing in himself and try to stop and think before acting. He is worried sometimes he will never get control of his emotions until he is an adult. I remind him that if he can do it in school, he can do it at home.
Of course at home he is loved unconditionally. Of course at home the same kind of social embarrassment is not present. And of course after bottling up emotions all day, at home it is safe to explode. Explode I allow. It’s the other more dangerous effects of anger that we are working on as a family. I have to say though, that things are improving as far as Michael seeing the consequences of his actions. He seems more anxious and quick to anger these days, but then recovers from it faster. He also has good awareness of what he is doing wrong, and will say he appreciates his father’s and my help to learn from his mistakes. He enjoys the reward system we have set up, and is back to sharing most of his school day with me. He seems more focused on learning and receptive to schedules and routine.
But when he is upset and asking me to help him calm down, it breaks my heart when I have to admit I can’t. For years, I tried. Then I realized that he needed to learn to self-soothe on his own, with his own strategies. I stay nearby, but understand finally that it is NOT my job to fix everything. That is his. It is also his to learn from his mistakes and grow stronger. Tonight, he felt embarrassed by two fights he had with me. He apologized for ruining the night. I quickly told him he did not ruin the night. It was a tough homecoming for sure, but shortly before dinner he turned things around by calming down and then had a great evening with his father and I. I told him a day or night is not a write-off as long as you turn things around and learn from your mistakes. Then, we celebrate the success and move forward. His whole attitude changed after that. I was proud that he could understand and participate in this kind of conversation. My little boy was indeed a big boy and growing up.
Exceptional Parents, how do you handle the pain and joy in watching your Exceptional Child grow up? There are moments that are tough to walk away from, but you must. That is how your child will learn. Stay nearby, but let them find their way to soothing, self-regulation. Then, you will be pleasantly surprised when they get it one day and can start to connect the dots of their behavior to their actions. They are truly little heroes, and deserve our continued love and belief in them. Until next time.