Thursday, July 14, 2011
Maybe I've been watching too much Star Trek: The Next Generation, but this is the perfect analogy for dealing with our son's Aspergers Syndrome lately. Living our life with his autism is like dancing with a singularity (a black hole). You can help him skirt the edge of disaster, skate around the perimeter of a meltdown, finesse his reality any number of ways to help him use his coping skills and head off other invitations to calamity at the pass, but sooner or later you'll get too close to the edge and get sucked in. And it can happen SO DAMN FAST.
As his Scout Master found out today.
We got a tearful call from our son this evening, around 8pm. He'd had a rough day, lost his temper at his friends a lot, and finally had a public meltdown that included swearing profusely at some other Scouts. His Scout Master brought him back to his tent (away from the activity with the other Scouts) to lie down and regroup, and to let him call us. My husband and I got on the phone at the same time and talked to our son. We got him calmed down, and got a general idea of what had been going on. Safety Guy confessed that he'd used offensive swear words at other Scouts, and apologized to us. We told him he'd have to apologize to the Scouts later, and to his Scout Master. We could tell his margins were shot to heck - he was well beyond his comfort zone, by several light years. Then we talked with his Scout Master.
God bless Tim, he's so good with Safety Guy and the other boys. He's seen Safety Guy through many Scout activities, from weekly meetings to weekend camp-outs, and even survived trying to teach our son how to properly use an axe. He's used to Safety Guy's quirks and mannerisms, his tendency to exaggerate when he's upset and to take things too personally when the guys are joking around together. Tim sees our son at church, where his boys and Safety Guy are in Youth Group together. But, he's never seen our son have a meltdown like THAT before. I could tell he was a bit taken aback, and wanted to talk to us while SG calmed down.
Of course we apologized for our son's behavior (as we've apologized so many times before), even as we all realized that my husband and I didn't cause it or encourage it. We were embarrassed and sad, but also in a strange way I was relieved. Someone else had a long-term interaction with our son, and has seen how quickly his affect and behavior can change. Someone else has gotten a taste of what living with Aspergers can really be like, what life with our son really is, down in the trenches. Someone else in our circle of friends and family knows now. And it's someone who can (and will) pray for our son and for our family, who will continue to be a good influence on him and encourage him and help him.
Welcome to our life, we wryly told Tim. He took it in the spirit it was intended. What we meant is, "THIS is our son, really - a sweet, smart, funny young man who has great difficulty controlling his emotions and actions under stress. A kid who is chronologically 12, physically looks 15, and emotionally is maybe 9. A boy who fundamentally doesn't understand how other people think, and lives in a scary world where people and events that are unpredictable seem threatening. He reacts with anger when what he's really feeling is fear and frustration. His emotions can flip from positive to negative in the blink of an eye, and back again just as quickly. He's a stranger in a strange land, even within his family, and we are his interpreters for now. Someday he'll have to navigate this scary world all by himself. Boy Scout camp is just a step in the long, long process of him growing up and into his own life."
Heaven help us, I wish I could have been there at camp to give him a hug (which he might or might not have accepted - he's at that age where Mom is equal parts necessary and embarrassing). But I'm glad we were far enough away that we could truthfully say that we couldn't just run up and get him. Because, as we talked with Tim, he never suggested that Safety Guy be sent home from camp early, and I commented that we wanted him to finish the week out so he'd know that losing his temper would not get him out of unpleasant circumstances. (Of course, if there were an emergency, we'd be on the road in a flash, and up at the camp in just over an hour.)
I don't think we can repay Tim for what he did for our son tonight, and I know Tim isn't looking for kudos or rewards. But I think he's the best example of a Scout Master I've ever seen, and a good man to be a role model for Safety Guy.
Now I'm hoping Safety Guy makes it through Friday without any major meltdowns. We'll be picking him up at dinner time, joining the Scouts for a BBQ dinner, then coming home. I already know that Safety Guy will need hours and hours of alone time to rebuild his emotional stability this weekend, and he'll probably have meltdown issues for days after he gets back. It comes with the AS territory. It's been a pattern his whole life, needing time to recuperate after any stressful event or change in routine (good or bad).
But now someone else knows. . . .