Friday, April 24, 2009

Why Meghan Goes to a Residential School

It’s been a tough week to get through. And I’m almost there. No, I’m not trying to bitch about Meghan being home and how it has been a lot of work keeping her entertained and out of trouble…. Can I just say, though, thank God for television and a handy ipod…at least for Meghan, and at this moment; because without them, I would not get much of a break.

As you may have guessed, Meghan is home from her residential school for the week, enjoying a vacation—an at home vacation. It’s nice to have her home on one hand, but tough on the other. She has been up to her old tricks of trying to eat too much, washing her hands too much, dumping out soaps, shampoos and even toothpaste—I still don’t know why the toothpaste? She also loves food and would eat quite a bit at one sitting if she could--and does--when I’m not looking…(Um, that would be an entire bag of frozen French fries, a whole bag of bagels, an entire box of pastries…I think you get my drift! I still can’t get over how much she eats.) I actually have to stand guard, when I can, to “try” to contain the overeating.

It’s still a full-time job taking care of Meghan, but what’s different from how it used to be, just one year ago…? I am no longer scared to intervene and enforce a No when necessary--even though she may not listen. I have lived many years of trying to mother and discipline a reluctant autistic child. Spending most of my time with her and keeping her safe and on track. What track? Any track. But, as some of you know, when she turned 12 (her teenage years), she'd found a whole new way of manipulating me in trying to get her way—she attacked me. I would be left black and blue with bite marks all over …and let’s not even mention my bruised and broken ego.

I think there’s a big difference between being attacked by your child than being attacked by your husband. The being attacked part would be the same, I imagine: the hair pulling; being pinched in the most sensitive of places—the cheeks, the breasts, the neck—anyplace that would hurt you. But, I think when it’s one of your own children hurting you like this, it’s a lot different, at least from the mother’s perspective. In both circumstances the abuser would show the rage in their eyes—they change, and the whole look of the person’s face becomes someone else—a different person in the moment. At that point, the anger is so beyond control that the abuse will happen no matter what you (the victim) say or do. If my husband hurt me like this, I would call the police, have him arrested, and I would want him dead. When my daughter came after me (sometimes once a day) I would almost surrender to her and allow her to pull my hair and pinch my cheek; but, at the same time, I’d be fending her off as best I could without truly hurting her…. I mean, how can you hurt your child who doesn’t fully understand the world around her, and cannot speak—communicate—to articulate her own complex feelings… I mean, how else could she let it out? And whom else could she let it out on?

I, of course, didn’t like her attacks. And after those few seconds, while both of us were resting from the adrenaline rushing through our bodies: hers through rage, mine through self protection, the bites and the pinches were not as painful as the pain of what was left of me after those moments… when I would get away, run outside and cry.

Meghan, on the other hand, would run to her room, or my room, sit, watch TV and laugh. I didn’t think it was a sinister laugh, but I did think she felt better… I mean, she let it out, right?

My husband once asked me, after an attack, why it was that I was crying…

I couldn’t believe he had to ask.

I am not scared now… I know Meghan has learned that attacking people is not acceptable… She’s learned this at school—her residential school, where there are trained and knowledgeable teachers who understand the different facets of autism and its associated behaviors—and where there are always two or three women (teachers) on hand to stop her before she can start…They are not scared, because they know the routine. When Meghan comes after one of them, usually the one who told her NO, two or three teachers will be there to grab her arms and direct her to a chair until she calms down…and at the same time, redirecting her to another activity. And, consequently, they would not be sad, or scared, or be crying. They would not even be mad at Meghan, because they know best how to help her understand, behave, and, eventually, live to become a productive member of society (or at least learn to live to her fullest potential). And as for Meghan? Well, she has since learned that this form of “trying to get her way” is no longer acceptable. She still bites her hand and pinches or bites her teachers when she’s frustrated, but most of the time she will walk off to her room, or to a chair, to vent and regain control.

I sit here now with confidence that when Meghan is home, I will do my best to keep her from eating too much, dumping out soap, biting foreign objects, etc.. and keep her engaged in activities to move her along with her day. I will teach, or coach, her what I can while she’s here—because I now know I can without fear. I will also enjoy snuggling with her, watching TV with her, playing her silly little clapping game (one that she has learned at school) and know that the time with us will be invaluable and well worth the petty struggles (the small stuff), because she will go back to school next week and learn even more…and make progress.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t allowed her to go to residential school; if I just chickened out and thought, well, I will just manage and do what I can; and if I get attacked, well, it would be better than having her live outside our home…right?

I know our life would have been different—very different. Meghan would be at a collaborative school—one that would actually tolerate her attacks; but at the same time, not like her because of them, perhaps even be afraid of her. I mean, why not? The other schools were, so why would this one be any different? She would also be twice as tall, and three times as big (at that point), and her tirades? Well they would be commonplace. And Nick would be afraid now, too; he would run away from her and, in turn, not respect me anymore… He would want to escape to a place far away from his mother—who he had once felt close to and, ironically, safe with, but who has now abandoned him because of her broken spirit and lost sense of self.

And in the years that would follow, people—neighbors, would drive by my house, and at sometime, somewhere within the depths of their car someone would eventually ask: Hey, what ever happened to that woman who lives there? You know, the one with the happy disposition and easy smile. I remember when she used to have wonderful birthday parties for her kids and would invite the whole neighborhood to come… And someone else, the one who would know, would say in response, Oh, yeah, well she still lives there. You see, somewhere deep within her house, sheltered behind closed doors, she lives there with her adult autistic daughter who scares people…and, unfortunately, all attempts to get her into an acceptable program have failed. Yeah, it’s sad. Some people even say that the woman’s arms are always covered with bruises; her smile, gone; her spirit, lost.

Yeah, it’s sad there now, very sad.


Danna Banana said...

Congratulations-you made it.

I'm so glad she is getting the structure and support she needs at school. Kudos.

kristi said...

Wow. This post had me reeling. I mean, we love our kids, but at what cost? Look how much happier you are as a family.

Shea's Mom said...

Oh Holli,

I am so glad you aren't that sad lost person and you did the bravest thing you could do and let her go to learn from others.

I am so glad that you found a place that can help her...and keep helping her.

Snif, snif...

Very moving post.

Tanya @ Teenautism said...

Holly, this must have been a difficult post for you to write, but it is so illustrative that your decision was the best possible one for Meghan - and for all of you. Well done, indeed.

Chun Wong said...

Your decision has obviously worked out better for you, your sanity, Meghan and your family. I'm glad that you're coping ok with having Meghan home and that she's learning that physically attacking people is not the answer.

Casdok said...

I could have wriiten this.
If i had not made the same decision my son and i would not be where we are today. People think i should feel giulty but i dont. I did what was best for him and we have not looked back.
It was not an easy option but it was the right one.
Am now having problems finding the right adult home - but that is our next chapter and i know it will work out.
As it will for you.