anxiety,  autism,  cross-country,  high school,  mental health,  strategies,  teen years

Glitches vs Emergencies

J’s elementary school during the Fargo flood of 2009. Believe it or not, the city was able to meet emergency needs and still be able to keep all of our kids in school–which was a miracle our little Beck family REALLY needed.


When the week started, I knew what this post was going to be about. It was going to be about the unexpected things–things for which J has a hard time deciphering the best appropriate reaction. Because of J’s severe anxiety, his brain registers all “unexpected and disruptive things” as something worthy of an emergency type response (aka meltdown). Last week I wrote about how that gets better over time–and it definitely has. But this week had some unexpected and disruptive elements to it that J didn’t appreciate, (and didn’t always respond to in the best way). Still, he’s had worse responses, and we did finish the week with some really great victories.

Monday was Labour Day, which meant no school but XC practice in the afternoon. I figured J shouldn’t have a hard time with it. He’d been going up to the school all summer long and ran practices in mornings and afternoons. It was out of routine, but still within the realms of acceptable routine. And so I biked J over to practice, thinking there shouldn’t be any problems at all, until 5 minutes before we reached the school when a violent wind, followed by a cold torrential downpour, followed by a literal hail storm hit us. J was screaming at me that he wanted to go home (we were closer to the school than home at this point) and yet at the same time he realized that he just needed to make it to the school. So we biked on, hail pelting on our bare arms and legs. Of course J ran to the closest door once we reached the school and of course it was locked. As I locked up the bikes (yes, in retrospect I didn’t need to lock up the bikes, no one would steal them in a hailstorm–so yes, I guess I lose my brain too in stressful situations) I yelled at him to go to the other door (where the XC team was inside waiting for the storm to pass). By the time we got in, we were soaked and our skin stung. But within a 5 min or so, the storm passed, and the boys were ready to run. I asked J if he was ready to run, and he said yes. But of course he wasn’t. That storm event was enough to set him off for the rest of practice. Shortly after the boys started their run, J let everyone know he wasn’t going to do it. He had a mini meltdown, said mean things to his coaches. And that was Monday.

This is something that J’s speech therapist introduced to him a while back. The level of problem determines the level of response. If it’s a big problem, then it probably warrants a big response. Little problems or “glitches” warrant little responses. It also helps J gauge how much he’ll need adult support through a situation.

Tuesday school started and this week was homecoming week. J’s first homecoming week, full of all sorts of disruptive spirit activities. We failed to prepare him for the first one on Tuesday, and we had some behavioural issues because of it, but J trekked through the rest of of the week fine. He even tried the big Friday afternoon assembly–for 5 minutes–before he decided it was too loud and chaotic. But no meltdowns, and he handled his anxiety like a champ (see, it really does get better). He even ran a good XC race on Saturday!

XC picture of the week! There was another little “glitch” (although J didn’t know it happened) at the end of his XC race. His number got recorded wrong as he crossed the finish line. What number do you think it is? 102? 201?

Even though this week sounds a little dramatic (and having a kid with autism, all of those little dramatic moments become dramatic moments for you too), it pales in comparison with what much of the rest of the US is dealing with. There are 64 uncontained wildfires burning. Texas and Louisiana are still reeling from Hurricane Harvey while Florida is still in the throws of Hurricane Irma. I think of all of the people and families right now living their emergency moments–I think of all of the special needs families–all of the families with autistic children who are trying to preserve the mental health of their children and do the best they can to navigate being uprooted, homeless, snatched out of the routines in which they rely on so heavily. My kid had a meltdown over a little rain and hail. And homecoming pep rallies. Can you imagine a real emergency?

It made me think about when we experienced the Fargo flood of 2009, J was in kindergarten. We had been in our home for 7 months. People told us that Fargo had flooding issues in the spring, but our first spring was atypical. All of the elements were in place for a devastating flood. The entire community was filling sandbags literally around the clock. Steve and I would take shifts volunteering–sometimes the 2-6 am shifts. Everyone was afraid we were going to lose our homes, and every time we made our sandbag dikes high enough, the forecast changed and we had to build them even higher. At one point we got a “Code Red” in our neighbourhood because there was a breach in one of the sandbag walls and we were on high alert (with the potential for evacuation). Luckily the volunteers were lightning fast–8 lines of baggers, the city delivered the bags, and they were done within half an hour. And they managed to stop the leak. Let’s just say it was a really stressful couple of weeks. But we were lucky. We never had to leave our homes.

I remember the hard part of it all was trying to hide the stress from the kids and keep that “normal” routine for as long as possible. Sandbag trucks with police escorts were running up and down continually down the main streets. All the big furniture in our house was on the main floor–including the washer and dryer. The water smelled terrible when you used it. We were washing clothes in the bath tub. There was visible chaos. But luckily J and W were okay through it all–we never told them that we might have to evacuate. They were still able to go to school. We were able to keep most of our routine going through it all–so much so that they weren’t fully aware of the magnitude of the situation. Thankfully. J’s glitches (okay, maybe the hail storm could count as a “medium problem”) through homecoming week? And that’s with the coping strategies he’s developed over 9 years. Those coping skills were practically non-existent in kindergarten. I can’t even imagine how hard it would have been–how is anxiety would have been–if things had gotten worse.

My heart goes out to everyone in who is experiencing these tragic events–especially those who have kiddos on the spectrum. So hard on so many levels. We’re praying for you, and hope your kids can manage these very real, emergency situations. We hope you can get back to your routine as soon as possible, and hope that you can find the social emotional resources as well as the physical ones you need to help you get your kiddos through this.

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