This memory is from an unfortunate event that happened back in 2015. Meltdowns aren’t ancient history for us yet, which is why we continue to work hard to give Ronan the language he needs. Communication is key. It is key for so many reasons.
I shared some major gains that Ronan's been making with some people last weekend. I might've jinxed myself for sharing all that awesome though. What happened on Monday was not awesome.
As we left the Big Box store that Ronan's been able to navigate in and out of like a boss lately, he melted. Oh, how that child melted down. Maybe it was because he didn't fall asleep until after 10:30 pm the night before. Maybe it was because I had to wake him up early on a day that he normally gets to sleep in. Maybe it was because I had to race him and his little sisters to the girls' school because I'd overslept and the girls missed the carpool. Maybe it was because I later took him to a store he had no interest in going. Maybe it was because we left the store through a different door. Maybe it was because he didn't get the special treat he's been offered during other recent shopping trips. Maybe it was because of all of those reasons.
Maybe it was because of none of those reasons.
Whatever the reason, Ronan had a meltdown that lasted for 33 minutes - ten of which were in the parking lot in front of a lot of other shoppers. The other 23 minutes were in the car. Those 23 minutes were not any easier.
That's when things got a little carried away.
Ronan was still not cooperating once he was in the car with me or with his therapists, so we continued to wait things out. After several failed attempts at getting Ronan to communicate, I brainstormed another idea. At this point, I was in the backseat trying to encourage and redirect Ronan to sit safely in his car seat. He was in the car but not seated yet. Since Ronan loves his movies so much, I thought if we could get him to request a movie, we could turn his behavior around. But then I thought of something better. Maybe if I turned on some music first, something he’s highly motivated by, he'd asked for me to change it. I thought before I changed the song, I'd be able to encourage Ronan to sit. If I could get him safely in the car seat, I could buckle him up. If I could buckle him up, we could get going. If we could get going, I could turn on his movie. That sounded simple enough, but because the situation had already gone south, and quickly, I wasn't sure my plan would work.
I turned on a CD. It’s a favorite of mine and one that I thought for sure that Ronan would immediately ask me (through sign language) to "change".
Instead of signing change or asking for a movie, Ronan relaxed. Still firmly planted on the floorboard of the car, he quieted down, he leaned into me, and then, he actually enjoyed the music!
As much as I loved that Ronan was enjoying my favorite music and was finally not in fight mode, that song choice wasn't working. Since I still needed him to get in the car seat so we could leave, I switched to another CD on. This time, I picked a song that I knew Ronan would not enjoy. Within seconds of hearing The Sound of Music's The Lonely Goatherd, Ronan indicated that he was just about ready to work with me again.
That's when he made eye contact.
That's when he signed change.
That's when he responded politely.
That's when he climbed into his car seat appropriately.
That's when a 33-minute meltdown ended.
That's when all was once again right with the world.
A sense of peace and calm fell over all of us as we drove away from the Big Box store, and I smiled. We work so hard to avoid meltdown, but they happen. Some of them, like that day’s, last a long, long time. I'll sit down with our therapists later to come up with a new plan for shopping trips and getting back into the car. We can't avoid stores, the public, and the world entirely, so we'll brainstorm new strategies. That day it felt like we lost some of the momentum Ronan was gaining, but I'm so grateful that we have the energy and support to try, try, try again.
We will always try, try, try again.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.