When Your Child Says He Wants to Die

He’s seven. He stomps down the steps of the school bus carrying an elaborate Styrofoam leprechaun trap. The bright sun and blue skies are in stark contrast to his moody face. His eyes meet mine for a fraction of a second, then he drops the Styrofoam contraption. He rears his head back, throws his small body into a nearby parking lot space and begins to howl.

Meltdown mode.

I’m used to meltdowns. My son has been having them since he was thirteen months old. Years of practice have made me an expert at identifying his triggers to prevent the meltdown altogether or waiting him out until his flailing-limbs storm can pass.

This time, his meltdown is the result of frustration at breaking one of his styrofoam cups while getting on to the bus. He is a perfectionist and incredibly hard on himself (inherited traits) and after putting hours into this elaborate trap (truth be to told, it was pretty cool), having it get damaged was simply unacceptable.

As I try to calm him down with soothing tones, I am also calculating how much time I have before a car pulls into the exact parking space he is flailing in. With a sense of urgency, I scoop him up, set him into our car, close the door, then take a very long breath before I join him in the backseat. I sit. I wait. After about twenty minutes, he is ready to listen and ready to talk and we continue on with our day.

As I said, I’m used to meltdowns. What I haven’t grown used to are his piercing words.

“Just kill me! Please! I want to die!”

I’ve heard these words before.

He was five the first time he told me wanted to die.

This is not “normal” for neurotypical kids. I found that out rather quickly when I asked friends if their own children had ever said this.

A resounding no, followed by incredulous looks.

Nothing can prepare you for these scary words coming from the mouth of someone you would gladly give your own life for.

My mother’s intuition assures me he doesn’t literally mean what he is saying, but the small speck of doubt prompts me to seek help. My son’s life isn’t something I am willing to take lightly.

We are fortunate enough to live near a reputable pediatric psychologist who specializes in neurodevelopmental diagnoses. He is someone our son truly enjoys talking to (that, and playing with the amazing arcade in the waiting room chock full of classic video games).

After the “leprechaun trap meltdown” (which failed to catch a leprechaun, but succeeded in capturing a few dropped coins from the leprechaun’s pocket), I find myself sitting in this psychologist’s office, sharing the story with him, worry etched on my face.

Without a moment’s hesitation, he says, “That’s very common in ASD kids. When they say they want to die, it means they’re sad. When they say they want you to kill them, it means they’re very uncomfortable and need a break.”

Speechless. An audible sigh of relief. “Can I get you to write that down?”

He continues. “Kids with ASD feel emotions on such a strong level that they are quick to react, both verbally and non verbally, and often in inappropriate, scary ways. The goal for you is to teach him to say the words that convey what he really wants. Teach him to say, ‘I feel sad’ or ‘I need some space because I’m angry.’ It’s not easy, but it can be taught.”

I am silent for a moment.

“Okay.”

I give my son an extra big hug that day (I want to give his doctor one too, but I settle for a smile and a thank you), renewed with the knowledge that he is going to be okay. That while we we are working through another autism milestone, we are not working through it alone.

I share this story with you in hopes it will provide you with some relief. Relief that if your son or daughter has said these scary words, that they are going to be okay too.

I also want to remind you to always trust your parental instinct, but don’t be afraid to have it affirmed by trained professionals, especially when the concern could be life-threatening. Share your fears with someone else so you don’t have to carry the burden of worry alone. Peace of mind is a beautiful gift.

Okay. Time to go give my little man another big hug.

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Welcome to Voices of Special Needs Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from special needs bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Mommy Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about having a special needs kiddo — from Sensory Processing Disorder to ADHD, from Autism to Dyslexia!

Want to join in on next month’s Voices of Special Needs Hop? Click here!

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The Elusive Dipped Cone

Catastrophe: noun. an event causing great and often sudden damage or suffering; a disaster.

This story is not.

It’s been a month, so this event is actually pretty funny to me now (ah, Time, you good ‘ol healer).  When it was happening though, it really sucked.

This is the story of me, my four year-old, and his side-kick autism on an epic journey for the ever-elusive chocolate dipped ice cream cone.  Brace yourselves.

Big C (my son) and I had just finished a phenomenal field trip at the Ann Arbor Hands-on Museum.  As a sensory-seeking child with little impulse control and a tendency for aggression, my son was put to the test on this sensory-overloaded field trip.  When the trip was over, I swear to you I could hear a choir of angels singing.  The trip went off without a hitch!

Hoping to capitalize on our good fortune and the beautiful spring day (our first this season), I asked Big C if he’d like to go for a walk and get an ice cream.  Naturally, he said yes, and we were on our way.  I had already taken out my phone and Google-mapped a place a few blocks away.

Oh, did we have fun!  I let Big C hold my phone so he could watch our dot get closer and closer to our destination.  My excitement built along with his.

As we walked, he made sure to ask me (several times), “They have my kind, right?”

“What’s your kind, honey?”

“The white kind, with chocolate on top.”

“Oh, you bet!”  I felt a tug on my heart and sweat beginning to bead on my forehead.  I think I knew what he meant, but I wasn’t sure.  My memory was racing. He liked chocolate-dipped vanilla cones, right? It was tricky because “his kind” could change on a dime, dependent upon his mood.  I had total confidence, however, that this place would satisfy his needs for vanilla ice cream and chocolate.

About fifteen minutes later, we arrived at our location: it was closed.

Due to open in TWO days.

Dammit.

I quickly recovered as I witnessed my son’s crumbling face.  “No, problem!  We will just use our map to find a new place!”  My son smiled, readily agreed, and we soon found ourselves at Kilwin’s, just a few blocks away.

Then events turned ugly.

Immediately, the place had an icky feel to it.  It was small and the smell of fudge was overpowering. Right away, Big C was not happy.  “Oh, look!” I pointed, my voice dripping with forced enthusiasm.  “There are so many choices of ice cream to choose from!”

Big C looked aghast.  “They don’t have my kind!”

“Well, why don’t you try a few samples, and see if you like a new kind?”

He grumbled in response.  Feverishly, I began asking the woman at the counter if we could try the different varieties of vanilla they had.  She agreed, but all samples were met with a look of disdain and growing frustration by my son.

Trying to help, the woman calmly handed him a little spoonful of Mackinac Island Fudge.  “Here, my children love this.”

Big C took a little taste and proclaimed, “That’s disgusting!”  Amid my apologetic looks and rising blood pressure, Big C began pacing back and forth from one end of the ice cream counter to the next, humming in a high-pitched tone.  It was a full-on stimming episode, and I felt powerless to stop it as I tried to ignore the judgmental stares from patrons and workers.

After about five minutes, I couldn’t take it any more and grabbed him by the arm, and as gently (but firmly) as I could, escorted him out.

“Are we going somewhere else for ice cream?”

I was tired and frustrated, so I responded with, “No, we’re out of options.”

Mistake.

The ten-minute walk back to the car was accompanied by his full volume wailing.  I thought the stares in Kilwin’s were awkward.  Bah!  I kept waiting for a police car to pull up beside us and ask if everything was alright.

But then, a glimmer of hope joined our, thus far, failed mission.  Once we got to the car, Big C said, “I’m sorry I disappointed you.”

A direct stab to the heart.

“It’s okay,” I blubbered, hugging him hard.  Then, inspiration struck.  “Hey, why don’t we try McDonald’s?  It’s right on the way home.”

His eyes lit up.  “Okay!”

So we were on our way again, sure to be victorious on our quest for ice cream.

About twenty minutes later, we pulled into the McDonald’s parking lot and, hand in hand, skipped in and ordered.  No problem.

Then another curve ball came.

“Hey, we don’t have dipped cones yet.  They’re seasonal,” the sloppy-looking, presumed-manager, barked from the back.

Noooooooooo! 

I glanced furtively over at my son, his eyes welling with tears.

“Maybe a sundae?” the teenage girl working the register kindly suggested.

That’s not going to work,” I snarled at her.  Poor girl.

But then I realized I had no alternative and, with some convincing, Big C begrudgingly agreed to try a sundae with chocolate syrup.

Once he saw what it was, his eyes lit up.  He took a bite and said, triumphantly, “Mmm…yum!  That’s my kind!”

As he finished his treat, I sat beside him in the booth, enjoying those ten minutes of silence, filled with the occasional sounds of Big C licking his spoon. At that point, I wasn’t in the mood for ice cream.

Besides, McDonald’s didn’t have my kind.

Once home, exhausted, but not willing to neglect the beautiful day, I texted our neighbor with children the same age to suggest a walk to the park.

Her response: Sounds great!  Be home in ten.  At Dairy Queen just finishing up. It’s free cone day.

[insert expletive here].

So, what does your child “need” to have?

Note: this post is part of a blog hop. Click the link below to read more blogs about what it’s like to have a sensory-special kid!

SensoryBlogHop

 

Meltdowns: “You ain’t seen nothin’!”

Whenever my friends describe “meltdowns” their young children have, I have to restrain myself from busting out into maniacal laughter.

They really have no idea.

If you’re a parent, you know what meltdowns look like.  They’re not pretty.

If you’re a parent of an aggressive child with special needs, you know what a meltdown feels like.

You’ve got the bruises, blood, or black eye to prove it.

It was my son’s aggression at an early age that clued my husband and I in that something wasn’t quite right.  He would smack his head on the floor at 13 months old when he was frustrated. He couldn’t go more than few minutes at daycare without banging into someone or something, constantly pulling out the hair of other children and the daycare providers.

In one respect, Big C’s aggression has been a blessing.  It’s helped us realize early in his life what his struggles are, and while it took a few years to really pinpoint the issues, we have a much better handle on how to handle him (and ourselves) when he gets overstimulated.

The great news?  Big C’s tendency for aggression have diminished tremendously over the past year.  Don’t get me wrong.  He’s still way more aggressive than the average four year-old (he threw an eight ball at my head a few weeks back because he didn’t want to end the play date), but at least he’s starting to recognize the aggression in himself and, every so often, stop himself before it escalates.

More often though, he has the meltdown, then explains later why he was upset.  For a four year-old, I think this is impressive.

Very recently, a new form of meltdown has emerged.  It’s one I haven’t quite figured out how to cope with yet.  I find myself just getting frustrated.

Lately, if Big C doesn’t want to do something or feels threatened in some way, he closes his eyes, starts rocking his body, and makes animal-like moans.  His ability to use language completely shuts down.  When I try to get him to talk, he just runs and hides.  This has happened several times in public places like daycare and preschool.

The only “strategy” that remotely works is to wait it out.  It’s not easy though.  I find myself getting more and more frustrated and less and less patient.

BUT, the last time this happened, a couple of days ago, after the meltdown subsided, he hugged me so tightly we both fell over and then he said, “I’m sorry I’m frustrating you.”

Seriously?  How do you not smile at that?

The moral of this story?  Epic meltdowns can sometimes lead to epic apologies.

What are some of your strategies for dealing with meltdowns?

Note: this post is part of a blog hop. Click the link below to read more blogs about what it’s like to have a sensory-special kid!

SensoryBlogHop

This post can also be found on the blog, Sammiches and Psych Meds.