Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Tantrums and destruction can occur out of the blue

On Friday a few hours after Meghan got home she started freaking out (a sloppy, but easy way of saying that she was out of control and I needed to get away from her, and fast). I was sitting next to her in my room, just hanging out with her on my bed, watching the news and enjoying a relaxing moment together, like we’ve done so many times before. But then, out of the blue, she started pulling her hair, contorting her face and making angry nonverbal noises. It was a horrifying sight. What was different from how she might have been before she went away to school, was that she was only hurting herself, not grabbing my hair and neck and pulling and pinching me in a similar fit of anger, as she so easily could have done at that particular time. As I walked away and down the hall, I could still hear her freaking out, yanking at her hair and biting her hand. It was awful to listen to and I was wondering if the room that she was in even had a chance against her wrath.

But, she soon left that room and starting running down the hall toward the kitchen, where I was standing. And then I knew.

I immediately left the kitchen and ran down the few steps to the front door. As I was making my way to the foyer, I felt an all too familiar feeling on my head: it was the remains of a cup of ice water and, I think, an apple, that came crashing down on top of me, and I knew from this—an all too familiar sign—that she was smashing-up the kitchen and “in the zone” of real anger. We have a contemporary-like style home and the kitchen has a balcony that is open to a stairway and foyer below, and because of this, and when Meghan is having a temper tantrum, I am in the habit of protecting my head from any flying food or objects that were once laying on the kitchen island, and that Meghan was now thrashing around.

Just before I ran outside I looked at Nick, who was at the next level below (the family room), and told him to take cover, and he did. Now how terrible is that? Huh? I have to give my son a codeword that means Meghan is flipping out so barricade yourself in whatever room that has a door. Like a warning of a sudden tornado ripping through the house, so take cover!

I ran outside and cursed myself for not grabbing a phone. But at that time Meghan was standing at the doorway where she was pounding on the front glass door, swinging it violently against a plant urn, and getting angrier by the minute. I was thinking about getting into my car to protect myself, but then thought against the idea for fear that both my kids would think that I might drive off; or that Meghan would pound on the glass window of the car and I would feel trapped.

Then I looked up and saw her standing at the doorway, yanking and pulling out clumps of her hair so brutally that it scared the hell out of me. It was one of the worst scenes I’ve ever witnessed with Meghan.

Don’t get me wrong, before she went away to her school she would come after me and go for my jugular. Literally. But then it would be over. But this scene of self-inflicting pain: pulling out her hair in clumps and biting her hand so hard that I could see blood on her hand, was so violent that it was hard to watch. I was standing outside in the pouring rain with no coat, no shoes and no phone, just trying my best to get her calm. If I had a phone, I was actually contemplating calling the police for the very first time. It was that scary.

Meghan was beckoning me to come to her and I wouldn’t for fear of being attacked. I mean, she was still “in the zone” of anger, so I managed to run around the back of the house, discarding sharp planting tools that were left out from earlier that day along the way (sounds both disturbing and comical doesn’t it? but don’t get me wrong, I’m am not kidding.) I think I even joked with myself: Hey, lose the weaponry, get rid of the hoe; wouldn’t want Cujo extra armed!! I then ran inside from the back sliding doors and grabbed a phone to call my husband and said: "get home ASAP"--another codeword. ETA: 30 minutes.

Meghan went outside to the front, grabbed a glass that was on an Adirondack chair (one that I had out earlier) and threw it on the driveway to break it into shards of glass, thankful that she didn’t aim it at the house or car window. At that point I really felt like I had no choice but to lock the front door and lock her out.

She then started banging on the front door, hard at first, then harder; turning and wiggling the door handle so hard that I thought it would pop off. I knew that I had to try to encourage her to come inside from the back, that way she would have time (and a walk) to calm herself from her angry state because there was no way I was going to unlock the front door and have nowhere to run to get away.

Sounds like a violent intruder trying to get me, doesn’t it? Sometimes I think she is.

I was also hoping that by being locked out she might think it was punishment for her horrific acts and bullying. But at the same time I was worried that she might get even angrier, so I ran out the backdoor, running in the rain with bare feet and getting soaked along the way, while rechecking for more random weaponry (I think you would too) and finally persuaded Meghan to follow me to the back yard, which she did after a few minutes, but it took a few minutes. Once back in the house, she starting cleaning up her mess almost immediately-- a good sign of calm, and of atonement because she knew she did wrong. But I was still standing outside, shivering and watching—just in case I needed to get away.

I know I sound like a wimpy mother to my 14 year old daughter, but I have had the experience, on more occasions that I care to remember, of being pinched, bitten, bruised, and hair yanked out of my head to fear.

Just a late afternoon at our household! What’s yours like!??

Humor, humor is very important, you know!

I also want to point out that these “episodes,” or her tantrums, can be very random. Sometimes I can almost predict when she is, or just about to become upset--usually a sensory issue: loud sounds, or an unpleasant feeling on her body. I think the antecedent of the previously mentioned temper tantrum was either from the rain (she was outside swinging on the swings when it started to rain), and her hair was wet and perhaps bothersome to her at that particular moment. So bothersome that she couldn’t handle the sensory overload, if this makes sense to you.

And please note that these tantrums are upsetting to both mother and child (and others within the household); they are violent and destructive in nature and not to be taken lightly. I exhibited bits of humor in this story because that is how I handle my life in these situations. Humor makes an upsetting life or situation a bit more manageable and “doable” in the moment.

9 comments:

kristi said...

Oh my gosh. Are you okay? Is she okay? Your other children?

Danna Banana said...

It is pretty crazy, the things we understand and have to anticipate from our kids.
Our prayers are with you. Oh how I wish I had the power to unlock these kids' brains to figure out how to stop the violence.

Anonymous said...

Are the therapists from the school also visiting the home on the weekends she comes home and doing involved FBA's on these occurances? Seems to me they owe it to her and to you since generaliztion from one environment (school) to home does not occur unless programmed for. Unless you handle behaviors the exact same way they are handling them at school, before escalation, then she is never going to generalize her behavior plan.

Tanya @ Teenautism said...

Oh, Holly, I'm so sorry this happened. It must have been terrifying. Thinking of you, hoping everyone's okay.

Holly Nappi Collins said...

Thank you all for your concern and help. We are okay, as always. She hasn't had a tantrum in almost a year--at least at home, so I foolishly thought she had learned not to at home. I mean, the last time she felt upset about something, she went off to her room and bit her hand and then she was done.

Anon: thank you for your good advice. You are right, even though her school had mentioned that they should make home visits on the weekends, we have not arranged to do so. I did write a report (as I do every time she's home) and will be talking to her teacher and contact teacher.

Miz Kizzle said...

Yikes! Are you able to put her in a hold when she starts to freak?
The reason I ask is, I used to teach autistic teenage boys and some of them were very big and strong but my assistant and I were (usually) able to contain them by putting them in a hold the minute they started flipping out.
This eventually got on my nerves, having to constantly be on the alert, so I quit and went to law school. None of my three children are autistic but I can certainly relate (in a limited way) to what you're going through. Some of my students' parents actually wept with joy when I took their kids for a weekend respite at the school, they were so worn down from coping with them.
And what is it with biting hands? Several of my students really chomped on their hands when they were upset. It seemed to be rampant among the nonverbal kids.
I hope things are going better for you today. Anybody who claims that autism is just another way of relating to the world and that it's a GOOD thing is absolutely nuts, IMHO.

Anonymous said...

@Miz Kizzle-restraining kids is not the answer. Therapists like you are what's wrong in the industry. Thankfully you got out of it. If you had touched my kid I would have sued your ass off....asshole.

Anonymous said...

Hey Kizzle-did you ever look at why the children were escalating or just immediately restrain them with no understanding of the function of that behavior? Remember ALL behavior is communication and has a reason. Putting them in an immediate hold is foolish. You sound like a piece of sh*t therapist and people like you truly do SUCK for the kids. You were probably the one triggering their behaviors in the first place. Sh*thead.

Anonymous said...

NECC sucks. Here's a prime example.