One of the huge frustrations of having a child like Janey is that any mainstream advice books for parenting absolutely don't work. They don't cover kids like Janey. They give advice that assumes a child can talk at a age-appropriate level and can understand basic cause and effect. They assume a child is motivated by praise, and that a child's actions have external stimuli. They don't cover outbursts that become so extreme a child ends up in the emergency room, restrained by many people. They don't deal with screaming with absolutely no reasonable cause that lasts for hours or days.
I've realized over the years that I need to write my own parenting book, one that covers one child only, Janey. I've written it in my head. But I'm going to gradually post it here, bit by bit. I do this because perhaps some parts of it will also apply to other children a bit like Janey. But I caution---much of it won't. Take what you can use, but each of you with a challenging child will also eventually write your own personal parenting book.
Today's chapter---how to calm Janey down when she has an outburst. I should say, how to MAYBE calm Janey down, as very often, you simply can't. But a few things sometimes work. I'll list them in order of what will work for a milder outburst up to what we use in extreme situations.
1. Food.. Often, when she's upset, she's hungry. She doesn't seem to make this connection. And her hunger, like so much of her, seems sometimes out of the blue. She can have eaten a lot already, and still be very hungry. We have learned to quickly get some food into her if she is starting to escalate.
2. A shower. Janey has taught us this one herself. The most common thing she asks for when upset is a shower. The warm water streaming down seems to calm her immensely. We let her stay in the shower as long as she wants. I sit in the bathroom with her and read. The one has the added benefit of getting her away from the rest of the family, so they can have a little break.
3. Turning everything off. If Janey watching TV, or if music is playing anyplace, we turn it off. We often have to unplug the TV so Janey doesn't turn it back on. We stop talking much, we turn off lights, we make the surroundings as quiet and calm as possible, to avoid any external triggers.
4. Covering Janey with blankets. If I can, I get Janey on the bed and cover her up. Like many kids with autism, the pressure of the blankets seems to help a good deal.
5. Repetitive soothing touch and sound. I will often massage Janey's feet with lotion. While doing this, I'll sing a song, something mellow and quiet, over and over. Sometimes it's just a made-up song, like "Massage, massage, massage Janey's feet..."
6. Backing away. If Janey is still upset after all this, I've learned lately I need to just get out of her way. I don't want to be hit or bitten or have my hair pulled, for several reasons. One is of course that I don't like being hurt, but also, if I am hurt, I naturally react in a way that escalates the whole situation. So sometimes, I just walk away, and let Janey rage. If she follows me, I keep moving.
7. Nothing. When Janey is truly agitated, nothing helps. Nothing at all. All that can be done is to wait it out, sometimes until she falls asleep. Doing anything at all makes things worse. So sometimes, we just stand back and do whatever we can do with screaming and flailing going on the background. This is the hardest one for me to do. I want to help Janey, but sometimes, there is no help. She needs to just get through the episode on her own. Of course, we step in to keep her safe when necessary, but otherwise, we just wait for the storm to pass.
As you might guess, it's been a long morning here. I have used all these techniques and am now, in writing this, on step 7. It seems to be working a bit. Janey is watching nursery rhyme videos on YouTube, no longer screaming or hitting me. Merry Christmas Eve Eve.