In my house, we are all autistic and we all have meltdowns. This post is going to be about a meltdown of mine, I may write about the children later. It was one of the worst I have had in a long time. Post autism diagnosis, I am in a much better position to be able to analyse what happened and figure out how to avoid another in the future.
Prior to meltdown
After a month or so of no help with childcare, I had a terrible day yesterday. I was unexpectedly told to attend a meeting, with lots of new people. The children had to go to a new and unfamiliar place so they were nervous, excited and boisterous. There was lots of play fighting, which inevitably turned into real fighting. I rarely take both children out on my own. I was very stressed.
Morning of meltdown
I woke up to my daughter having her own mini meltdown, scratching me, shouting and throwing toys and my paperwork on the floor. She even pushed over the ironing board. I don’t know what triggered her meltdown, I was asleep when it started. She has a lot of anxiety at the moment, which I am working on reducing.
The children started fighting, which is stressful enough, but they have recently taken to screaming. A high pitched, loud scream that I can feel vibrating through my head. Next someone let the dog upstairs. As always if she comes in the bedroom, her morning welcome is to jump all over my head whilst licking me. It was the final straw and I lost it. It wasn’t even 6am by this point. I was screaming, crying. I felt trapped. People all around me, nowhere to escape. I needed everyone, including the dog, out of my room. The children are young and autistic and they don’t understand when they need to leave me alone. They never do as I ask when I shout. Negotiation is the only thing that works. So despite my distress they carried on laughing, fighting, repeatedly throwing a towel over my head, jumping on me. I became more frustrated trying to keep the anger in, because I didn’t want to upset them. But I can’t once I’ve reached the tipping point. I soon heard my husband jump out of the shower. “Come on kids, out of the room, your mum’s gone psycho”. (Neither of us would win parent of the year award for this morning’s performance). Eventually, I was on my own and hiding under the duvet crying.
It is the first time I have had such a big meltdown in front of the children. I get snappy sometimes when I’m tired and I have been known to cry in front of them when it all gets too much. But I have never yelled like that before. Usually, I can predict that a meltdown is coming and take steps to avoid it. This one took me by surprise. Probably because I was asleep and abruptly woke up to sensory overload.
Eventually my husband went to work, my son got his lift to school and My daughter and I were left alone. She was being her usual chatty self.
“I’m hungry mum, can I have more food?”
“Can we do baking mum?”
“Can we go to the park?”
“MUMMY, why aren’t you listening? MUMMY get me some food”
It wasn’t even 9am by this point and I needed to sit on the sofa and do nothing. I was crying, K was not noticing and chatting away. Eventually I sent an SOS to my mum. “Please come and take K, I can’t cope with her today.”
Because that is the point. Sometimes, I can’t cope. K was just being a four year old. She has done nothing wrong. Four year olds are noisy and demanding. I don’t do well in noisy environments. Particularly when there are multiple sources of noise. E.g. two people talking at the same time.
My mum came to the rescue and I had my first bit of child free time for weeks. Most of it was spent in bed crying, feeling guilty and worrying that I’m a bad mum.
Post meltdown analysis
With my new self-awareness it is obvious to me what went wrong. I haven’t been getting any time on my own lately. The times when I am calmest are when I get at least one day a week to either do nothing, or to do something relaxing like indulging in my special interest. Circumstances have meant that I am not getting that time at the moment and days like today are the result.
This morning’s sensory assault was the final straw. The noise, the scratching, the dog licking, the towel repeatedly being thrown on my head. That was what triggered my meltdown, but it has been building up for a while.
I can’t change myself or the way I become overloaded when the children are noisy. I can’t and wouldn’t want to make the children quiet. They are noisy most of the time, but I cope just fine if my weekly routine includes some time on my own.
So top of my ‘to do’ list now, is to get help with looking after the children. I feel like a failure that I can’t do it all myself, when other women seem to manage. But I need to get over it and do what is best for all of us.
As far as I know it’s pretty rare for autistic parents to get support from the state for parenting. Many autistic parents won’t need any support, I know of quite a few fantastic autistic parents. Others like myself just need a small amount of support. In my case a break makes all the difference. Now I have written this post, I feel motivated to have a look at what research on autistic parenting is out there. My guess is that there isn’t a lot. Perhaps I will write a future blog post about what I find.
One thing I do know is that there is a stereotype that autistic parents are bad parents. As with so many autism stereotypes, this is nonsense. However, for those of us who find autistic parenting brings extra challenges, sometimes a bit of respite is all that’s required.
I would love to hear of any examples where autistic people are getting support with parenting if they need it. I don’t think it exists in England, at least not unless the children are autistic too.