Janey gets home from school this year at about 2:30. This is far earlier than other years, when she went to after-school. I looked into after-school for her this year, and talked to the director, who seemed great, but it would only last until 4:15, and has no transportation. That would mean I'd have to pick her up, as Tony would not be home yet, and driving out into Boston traffic at that time is not something I want to do. So for now, Janey has the afternoon at home.
Mid to late afternoon has always been the toughest time of day for Janey. I think she gets tired by then, due to her poor sleeping, but she doesn't nap. She has used up her day's reserves of holding it together. Daddy isn't home yet, and I am tired too. If she hasn't eaten well, she's hungry. Her medication is wearing off. There's tons of reasons, and they all combine to make around 3-5 pm the most likely time of the day for meltdowns.
Monday, Janey got off the bus ready to explode. She ran to her bed and flung herself onto it, something that looks like a teenager to me and almost makes me laugh, if it wasn't usually the start of trouble. I went over to her and did my afternoon bit "I'm so happy to see you home! I missed you a million! How is my sweetie? How was school?" As usual, she doesn't respond. Her pull-up was very wet, and so I started to change her. When it came time to put another pull-up back on, she threw a fit. She ripped the new pull-up. If any of you have priced pull-ups for kids 8-14, you know they cost close to a dollar each. So we discourage ripping. I said "You don't have to wear a pull-up right now, but you have to wear some pants" Janey decided she didn't want to. She let me know this by starting to scream and grabbing my hair and pulling as hard as she could. It took all my strength to get away from her.
I'll spare you all the details of the screaming, hair pulling and flinging about of things from that afternoon. Suffice to say it was one of the longest two hours of my life. When Tony got home, I was beyond discouraged and tired. Janey was screamed out. She looked burnt out, glassy-eyed. So did I.
The next afternoon, I got her off the bus and braced myself. She didn't look at me as she walked in. She went straight for her computer, and started watching You-Tube videos. On impulse, I said "I'll be here reading if you need me". She didn't. For the next few hours, we barely interacted. A few times, she went to get a snack and needed help cutting cheese or opening a jar, and I helped her, but we barely talked. The house was quiet. About an hour into the afternoon, she came over to me and said in a fast and odd voice, one I hadn't heard before from her, "Need a new pull-up" I changed her as quickly as I could, without comment. She gave me a look I won't forget soon---a look that said what she couldn't say in words---that she was thinking of the day before and glad we were doing this day differently. When Tony got home, prepared to see us both as shells of ourselves, he was amazed we both looked rested and happy.
So what's the message? I don't know for sure. Whenever I think I've figured something out with Janey, I realize I haven't, so I'm reluctant to draw many conclusions. But on Wednesday and Thursday, I took the same approach. I kept things as quiet and low key as I could. I interacted with Janey only when she requested it. And we had great afternoons.
I keep thinking back to how I often greet Janey. I do what I did for years with the boys. I overact. I truly am happy to see them after school, and I want them to know that. I shower them with attention. I think the boys liked that. But the boys are different people than Janey. Maybe it took me until now to really understand that isn't what Janey wants. She has had an intense day at school, and she wants what a lot of kids want---to kick back, do her own thing and have her mother stay cool. Every kid is different. What Janey wants or needs, regardless of her autism, is not what William and Freddy want or need. So for now, I'm going to back off in the afternoons. No more dramatic greetings or smothering attention. I will play it cool, and we'll see how that goes.