Lately, a lot of things at both school and home are coming together to pound a lesson into my head---BE CONSISTENT! Of course, I know intellectually that is very important for all kids, and especially for kids with autism, but sometimes, it's easy to let it slide, and the universe seems to be wanting me to remember not to do that. Last night, for example...
Part of last night was not in any way my doing. It was the doing of the electric company. For some reason, our particular stretch of the street we live on seems hugely prone to outages. I think it's where a lot of lines branch out of, or something like that, because we lose power far more often than anyone I know. Over the summer, it got insane---days and days and day on end we'd be without power for much of the day and night. Then the electric company would robo-call us and tell us they were going to turn off our power for a specific length of time to make repairs, repairs you would always hope would fix the problem for good, but never did. Then we had a few months of respite, but that seems over. Night before last, the power was out most of the night, on a cold night (but not stormy---this isn't weather related!) and last night around 5 pm, it went off again. So when Janey got home, there was no power.
No power right away sent Janey into a very dark place, literally. She couldn't do her switching on and off of lights, she couldn't watch her videos, she couldn't listen to her music, she couldn't get her dinner quickly---not good. But she held it together at first. Tony went out to get us an emergency pizza dinner, and Freddy and I sang with Janey. When Tony got home with the pizza, the power suddenly came back on. So we tried to do our regular take-out routine---watching a DVD while we ate. It's the one time we don't give into Janey and let her watch what she wants. But Janey's chain of routine had already been broken. She didn't get to watch Daddy make dinner right when she got home, she didn't get to do the lights, she didn't get to switch around Netflix show. We didn't even get pizza from the normal place, and she didn't want to eat it. She wanted to watch Kipper. We stood our group in a misguided attempt to follow our OWN brand of consistency. That might have its place, but Janey's needs were more than ours right then.
Before the end of dinner, Janey started screaming. I've described her screams before, but yet again I want to emphasize how extreme they are, and they were at almost their most extreme last night. She goes rigid, red in the place, and doesn't hold back one ounce of lung power. She screams so loudly it makes your ears ring. It's absolutely incredibly loud and horrible to see.
And here's where I made probably my biggest mistake of the night. We have worked out a routine that works fairly well for screaming. I take Janey into the bathroom. I lock the latch hook up high, so she can see it. I stay in there with her. I don't tell her to stop screaming. I just say, calmly, that we are going to stay in the "screaming room" until she stops screaming. I am available to hug her or talk to her or whatever she needs, but I don't open that door until she stops screaming. Then I say "we can leave if you are ready to not scream any more. Are you all done screaming?" I wait for her to say "All done screaming!" and then we leave. If she screams again, we go back, but lately, once is all it takes.
But last night, I belatedly realized how hard the night had been on her, and then decided, foolishly, that because everything had been so tough, I would just try to calm her down by hugging her and talking to her. It didn't work. It didn't work for about 10 long, long minutes, the kind of minutes where time extends and it feels like 10 years. Finally, I wised up. I led her into the screaming room and did the routine. Within about a minute, she calmed down and asked me to "open the door!" When asked, she said "All done screaming" and she was. And I then carefully let the night follow her routines. She watched a little Kipper, switched the lights a lot, and went to sleep.
My point here is that not following a consistent routine can feel, to the parent or caregiver, like being nice. I didn't want to do the screaming room because I knew Janey had had a tough night. I wanted to comfort her, to make an exception. But that wasn't what Janey needed. She needed the predictability of a routine that she understood. She needed to know that things were not all changed, that our actions were predictable. I can't be inside her head, but I think it's a confusing place. I think she very much needs things to hold onto---come home, watch Daddy cook, watch a video, flip the lights, hear her dog book, and yes, go in the screaming room if she is screaming. She needs school to follow routines like that, to have predictable responses and teaching methods and routines. She needs as much consistency as we can give her. Sometimes, it's beyond our power, like the lights being out. But when it isn't, we need to be there to provide a predictable, routine-oriented scaffold so she can grow.