I’m really trying to figure out what happens in Holden’s brain when he is in the process of making transitions: going on a walk, getting ready for school, moving from the car to the grocery store, etc. The double-edged sword of impulsivity and receptive language loss creates the perfect storm for intense tantrums. On our trip to Denver, driving breaks were the most difficult. The first few times we stopped at convenience stores to get gas, Holden walked down the aisles trying to grab as many bags of Cheetos and candy bars as humanly possible. I found it challenging to steer him toward the bathroom—especially when I really had to go—when he’s freaking out about wanting chocolate. In North Platte, Nebraska, he threw himself on the floor yelling “Noooooo!” Really. Loud. I never let him have what he grabs, but I find it equally tough to get those things out of his hands without wrecking them. (Sometimes I can get him calm and he’ll put them back himself but not always). It was all I could do (under the careful watch of an audience of convenience store shoppers) to get him to drop the Cheetos and head to the bathroom.
His neuropsychologist says the “transition” issue is similar to what happens with kids with autism—there’s something impairing his ability to sequence actions and make decisions. I really wish I understood this better and how to make things easier for him. Sometimes giving him other things to focus on helps, like my iPhone or his iPad. Most of the time, he doesn’t really look at the screen, but it’s in his hands and he can’t grab as fast. Sometimes redirecting him to the screen helps keep him from creating havoc.
I have gotten some insight as to how Holden feels about these moments.
A couple of weeks ago, I was trying to get him to put his pajamas on after taking a shower. Meltdown of gigantic proportions ensued. When we’re not under pressure of place or time, I just leave him alone until he gets through them. (When we have an appointment or it’s a school day or if we have to get out the door for whatever reason—time pressure makes those meltdowns feel more necessary to resolve quickly.) But the other night it was just bedtime, so I let him have his meltdown. Once he got over it himself, he sat on the toilet and said, “I’m such an idiot. You don’t deserve that.”
At first I thought he was possessed because Holden usually doesn’t put sentences together like that. Sometimes he’ll say a world like “idiot” but he’ll say it with the intonation he gets from the movie or TV show he’s heard it in, so I know he’s just parroting. This he said in his own voice. I could chalk it up to a fluke, but then he washed his hands and brushed his teeth without problem or prompting. He quickly put his pajamas on and jumped into bed. Words plus action made me take what he said seriously—he really felt remorse for having such a huge meltdown. I was really blown away by this small window into his mind. He really knows in the moment or right after that screaming/crying/pushing is not what he’s supposed to be doing—or what he really wants to do—but he just can’t help himself. I wish a neurologist or psychologist could explain that better to me—tell me what’s happening in his brain during episodes like that. It’s heartbreaking to know that even when he doesn’t say things like “I’m sorry,” he might be feeling incredibly bad for his behavior and regrets disappointing people that love and care about him.
Remembering that he feels remorse and (mostly likely) can’t easily control himself in these moments make them easier to handle. Most of the time.