The morning was like every other morning. I’m loading all 3 kids in the car to take Gavin to school. Suddenly, Ethan’s anxiety spikes. Little sis is wearing a jacket, and he does NOT like that. In an effort to prevent a full-blown autism meltdown, I run back inside to grab a blanket for Kaitlyn. As I am unlocking the front door, I hear BOOM, BOOM. Gavin shouts, “Ethan stop it!” I run as fast as I could back to the car, but it was already too late.
Autism Meltdowns Happen Without Warning
Ethan was in a great mood this morning. In fact, we all were. I was feeling pretty tired, but I was in good spirits. It was a very cold morning, so Kaitlyn had to wear a jacket.
In the past, Ethan has had some issues with that. He kind of freaks out when she wears a coat or jacket. I’m not sure why, but for some reason she is not supposed to wear a jacket.
Lately though, Ethan had been doing really well with this, so I didn’t think anything of it, especially since he was in a really good mood. As soon as he got in the car and saw her buckled with a jacket on, he went into anxiety mode. “Jacket! Jacket! Jacket! Jacket,” he repeated.
I was tired. I knew I would not have the energy to try and help him through it. “Let me get her a blanket and cover up the jacket,” I thought to myself. While, I’m inside, I’ll grab his iPad too. Then, maybe he’ll be calm. He always drinks a bottle of water in the car every morning.
When I heard the thundering boom, I knew exactly what it was. It was his glass water bottle hitting a window, so I immediately ran back to the car pulled him out as fast as I could. I told him he could not bang on the car, and that he would have to sit on the porch while I went inside. He complied.
That’s When I Saw It
When we got back in the car, that’s when I saw it. 2 massive cracks in the windshield. My blood begins to boil. In my head, I say a few choice bad words. (or one specific bad word repeatedly) Every muscle in my body is now tense. My jaw is clenched, my fists are balled, and I want to erupt. Then, I think to myself, “they’re watching you. They are watching you. You have to be the example. Show them how to handle stress. They are watching you!” I keep repeating this in my head as I start to take many, many, many – many deep breaths.
Once gaining my composure, I turn to Ethan and begin trying to show him what happened. I told him this makes me very sad, and I needed him to try his very best to try and stay calm. “You can’t bang on things and you can’t hurt yourself,” I said. I take a couple more breaths and start to drive Gavin to school.
Autism Meltdowns Affect the Whole Family
Now, my attention turns to the other 2 kids in the back seat. Kaitlyn is totally fine, but I see Gavin’s head is down. He’s hiding his tears. I asked him why he was sad, he replied, I’m stressed because everyone else is stressed.” I hold his hand and explain that this is not a problem he needs to worry about.
“This is my problem. It’s just a broken window, I tell him. We can fix this. I’m not mad at Ethan. The situation just really stinks.” I held his hand the whole way to school trying to make sure he felt the love and help him start his day better.
After arriving back home, I give Ethan’s his iPad and turn on the TV for he and Kaitlyn. I need to decompress because I am still quite tense. I don’t know how I’m going to move forward. This autism meltdown is going to cost me a ton of money we don’t have. I try to meditate, but my mind keeps coming back to how much will this cost.
Trouble Snapping Out of It
I cycle back and forth from the cost of repair and my reaction in the moment. I keep wondering if I handled this right. What could I have done differently to prevent this autism meltdown, or should I have reacted better after the fact. Feeling like I failed to show them the best way to handle a stressful event, my mind starts spiraling in a negative direction.
I need to change my state, I told myself. So, I stood up, put on headphones and went to the basement to complete an intense 5-minute workout. I jumped on trampoline for 5 minutes. Then, knocked out a bunch of pushups, pull-ups, & burpees. I’m feeling a little better, but it was short lived. I’m still feeling guilty about my reaction, so I collapse in the hallway where I can see the kids, but am far enough wear they can’t see me wallowing.
And Then, Something AMAZING Happened
I’m sitting in a dark hallway. Feeling very down, I have my hood pulled so far over my head it covers my eyes. I just feel like crying. Suddenly, Ethan pops into my lap. He has his iPad and there’s some obnoxious video playing on YouTube. He leans into me and gives me a kiss on the cheek and puts his head on my shoulder.
Still fighting the urge to cry, I embrace him back and the 2 of us sit in the hallway together. Suddenly, my brain triggers into the video playing on his iPad. It’s a Thomas the Train video. In the video, they are singing a song about accidents. The chorus goes like this,
“Sooner or later we all find out that accidents happen now and again. Just when you least expect it, accidents happen. Just when you think that life is okay, fate comes to collect. Accidents will happen just like that.”
He Felt Remorse
My heart swells. I looked at Ethan. “Are you trying to tell me that you’re sorry? It was just an accident.” We hear all the time about our ASD kiddos finding unusual ways of communicating. Ethan has never done anything like this before, but I believe this moment was intentional. It played at the same time he sought me out and sat on my lap. That can’t be a coincidence!
Sometimes, You Need a Good Cry to Get Over an Autism Meltdown
Needless to say, I lost the fight with my tears. I squeezed him tight as I balled like a baby. This was absolutely amazing. Ethan felt remorse. He knew his actions upset me, and he tried to make it right in his own special way.
We sat together for about 5 minutes, and then, he got up to watch TV again. I started cleaning the house a bit, and we both moved passed that autism meltdown moment and got on with our day.
Next time you’re in a bad state following an autism meltdown, remember that you are not alone. We’ve all been there. You can’t win them all. It’s not their fault. Just like they make mistakes, we make them too, and that’s okay. It doesn’t matter if you reacted poorly. The only thing that matters is that you remember:
“Accidents happen now and again, sometimes just by chance
You gotta pick yourself up and dust yourself down
Put it down to experience
Accidents happen now and again
Just don’t take it all to heart”
Share your Story
Have you had a similar experience? Something valuable get broken due to a high anxiety moment or other situation? What helped you move on after an autism meltdown?
Tell us your story in the comments.