One full day shy of Mia’s seventh birthday she decided to show me what a “meltdown” is.
I’ve always heard of the “Autistic Meltdown”. Not a tantrum, but the unstoppable flow of emotion. But, up until this point I had never experienced one. I never knew what one really encompassed. Everything that I ever thought was one paled in comparison. Everything that I ever thought was one wasn’t even close.
I’m still not precisely sure what set it off, maybe the broken pup tent she had tried to play with moments before. Maybe she was angry that we disabled the internet from her computer so she couldn’t google animals by herself. Maybe it was something else entirely. All I know is that once it started I was absolutely powerless to stop it. I have never before in my life felt so utterly helpless. So completely destroyed. So absolutely angry at myself for not having the ways or means to comfort my child.
I was in the kitchen cleaning up the mess made by her afternoon snack when it started. Hearing a loud bang I rushed to the stairs and ascended them as quickly as I could. Upon reaching my daughter’s room I saw her sitting on her bed, her shattered laptop on the other side of the room. I saw the same blotchy red skin surrounding her eyes that I too get when I am furious, when I am sad. Then her tears came. And they seemed to never stop. I tried to hug her, but she pushed me away.
Even if I tried I couldn’t relay to you the experience from this point on. It moved so quickly, yet time stood still. She kicked. She screamed. She cried. She pulled, punched, smacked. Most of the time the blows were not directed at me, but towards herself. Throwing my body on top of hers I tried to shield my daughter from her own fists.
It was so bad Mia lost a slightly wiggly baby tooth in the process. Yes, it was loose to begin with, but that doesn’t change the fact that she managed to lose it during the violent thrashing that ensued. Before it ended she sat down, and with blood pouring out of her mouth and dripping down her chin, she screamed a loud guttural moan that seemed to fill the room. A blood curtailing wail that will forever shake the walls of my memory. And all I could do was sit down too; and cry. Out of frustration. Out of despair. Out of sadness for my child and anger at myself.
Then as quickly as they came they were gone again. Mia’s tears were gone, and so were my own. But left in their place was the sound of maniac laughter. The laughter that sprang forth from my daughter was not the laughter of a happy child. Quite the opposite, it was the laughter of someone at the end of their rope. It was laughter from the lost.
I could not say for how long this laughter lasted. It could have been five minutes, or yet, it could have been an hour. I do not know. A feeling I have never felt before washed over me and time was lost. I sat at the end of Mia’s bed, trying to comfort her, trying to hug her, trying coax her out from under her shield of laughter. The only response she continually gave amidst her frantic hilarity was “Good-Bye”.
Wholly dejected I exited her room. I felt a failure. I couldn’t even comfort my child properly. I sat in the hallway, just out of her sight. I stayed close to her room. I wanted to make sure she was safe. I sat and thought. I thought about the day of her birth almost seven years previously to the day; and how ever since that moment her happiness has been the foundation of my life’s happiness. I thought about the many times my child stumbled in this life and never reached out her arms in my direction for my comfort. I thought about the way my heart felt in each of those moments. I thought about how my child must have felt in each of those moments.
Wrapped up in my memories I saw my beautiful, blonde two year old child fall to the ground. Before I could reach her she had pulled herself up on her own. Huge tears were streaming down her face as she started to run. I reached my arms out to her, ready to encase her in a comforting embrace. She ran right past my out stretched arms – she ran right past me. The comfort she sought was not maternal. The comfort she sought for herself was in the manner of a spinning wheel. Not knowing what else to do, I sat down next to my daughter, pulled her on my lap, and wildly spun every toy wheel we had in the house. And she smiled.
As the fog from my memory cleared I realized my error. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I had once again forced on Mia the typical means of comfort without ever stopping to think about what she might prefer. My attempts at calming and soothing Mia had not worked for the obvious reasons – an embrace is not always calming to my autistic daughter, sometimes it is intrusive. I slowly pulled myself up from the floor, brushed my pants off to the sound of my still laughing child, and walked into her room. Sitting down on the bed I proceeded to script lines from Mia’s favorite shows. I began to repeat every conversation between characters, and every song, I could think of. Silently she looked up at me in approval. And, silently, she smiled.