I’m holding my breath–ready to pass out–because we’re so close to the finish line but I can’t quite declare that we’re in the clear yet. At noon today, I announced to Steve that we had just passed the twilight zone hour (if J’s going to have a catastrophic meltdown at school it’s almost guaranteed to happen during the 11:00am-12:00 pm) and that we have one more day to go. We just need J to hold it together for one more day and then we can officially declare victory for the semester.
I don’t know why, but Christmas time has always been hard for J. Someone at church told me once that she had severe anxiety and that Christmas always triggered a flare up in her anxiety too. Maybe it’s the expectations we have at this time of year, the “countdown” to the “big day,” the crazy scheduling, the added responsibilities. I think for J it probably is a lot or all of these things.
I’m learning more and more that when you love (and live) with someone with anxiety, it’s hard not to let their anxiety become yours. Typically I really like this time of year, but over the years it’s become a season of helping J cope and manage. It’s become a season of holding your breath, crossing your fingers, doing a little dance, knocking wood, praying, and all other sorts of ritualistic and superstitious behaviour to ensure you both make it.
This year has been a little different (knock on wood). J has been able to do a great job of managing his anxiety up until the holiday (we still have tomorrow–I hope I don’t jinx it) however, this year’s been hard in the sense that because J’s getting older, the crazy scheduling and other daily responsibilities are bigger now. Choir concerts are on school nights instead of during the day, huge homework projects and end of unit exams are booked up right until the last two days of school. For the first time (for as long as I can remember) I’m really, REALLY, ready for the kids to be out of school just so we don’t have to keep up with the school stuff or worry that J is going to have an explosive meltdown because of the stress of the season.
So far we’re making it. We had a really big victory last week. J had his grade 7 choir concert and he NAILED IT. For Steve and I, choir concerts have historically been a really stressful experience. In the beginning (k-grade 2 or 3), J wouldn’t let us in the same room as him during the concert. Even if he saw us try to sneak in, he’d begin a full on meltdown on the risers and scream. Once J decided it was okay for us to watch him, it was painful to see how he couldn’t stay still on stage–how he’d fidget–not in endearingly quirky ways, but in socially inappropriate, ways. If he’d get excited during a song, he’d rub his legs while he was singing and jump up and down or smell his fingers, or flap his hands.
But this year–this year–was a breakthrough. J’s para (who is AMAZING–we’ve always seemed to luck out with amazing support staff ) came that evening to help out in the backstage in the wings. J had two girls placed beside him to help him out too. This was the same set up as last year, but his para worked really, really, hard with him to prepare him for onstage behavior. As in: no flipping ties, no flapping hands, no flipping band aids on fingers (he compulsively picks his fingers until they bleed), no chewing or picking fingers, no rocking, no hands on legs, no rubbing legs, no smelling fingers, and stay as still as you can. And this year the stars aligned and it happened. We had the best choir concert on record.
Here’s a short little bit of video evidence. J sings with the girls because 1) he still has a soprano voice and 2) grade 7 girls are much more mature than grade 7 boys and are therefore much better peer helpers.
[vimeo 149684207 w=500 h=281]
(I cut down the clips so you can see how K and L, the girls beside him help him out at the 0:08 and the 2:17 mark. Bless his heart–he’s trying so hard to keep his body parts all in control.)
As I sat in the audience, it took everything in me not to erupt into a blubbering,crying mess. That’s one of the amazing things about the autism experience. Your heart just spills over with love for the people who help your kid out along the way. I just sat there, that gratitude you know you can never really repay for someone, for C his para, K and L standing next to him, E and M and all the other girls on stage who have helped him all through elementary school.
Yeah. There’s some pretty awesome people in the world. And I’m really glad they’re sharing the same space on this planet as me.
Have a very Merry Christmas or a very happy holiday in whatever way you celebrate!