After the incident in the shower, Jennifer, my respite sitter, struggled to keep things under control. But my daughter was in a rage fueled by anger, puberty, sensory dysregulation, or a combination of all three. Katie kicked the mirrored closet doors in her bedroom, then began kicking the walls. Unsure what to do to de-escalate the situation, Jennifer called Nate, my ex-boyfriend, once again.
By the time Nate arrived, there were several holes in the drywall (we’d find more later) and one of the closet doors was cracked. Jennifer was panicked. She’d never encountered this kind of behavior in almost four years of working for me. Nate saw the state of the walls (and calculated the amount of time it would take me to patch them) and decided to restrain Katie until she calmed down to prevent further destruction.
Nate had pinned Katie to her bed when Jennifer called me in Truckee, almost in tears. I calmed her down and tried to decode what had happened. I could find no clear trigger.
The problem with restraint is that it often only serves to make the child angrier. In other words, it makes a bad situation even worse. Which is precisely what it did that night in my home while I was a nearly four-hour drive away.
Katie was thrashing around on the bed and screaming like she was being murdered. Nate, who is a big guy, was having trouble holding her down. I suggested Jennifer help him by pinning Katie’s legs and then walked her through the breathing technique that I use to help Katie calm down. It worked a bit, but the minute Nate lessened his grip, she turned on him.
Nate began complaining about being tired. I explained that once he decided to restrain Katie, he needed to follow through until the meltdown ended. And eventually, after an hour, it did.
Never have I been more grateful for the end of a meltdown. I’m sure Jennifer and Nate felt the same. I sighed, thanked them both profusely, and hung up. It had been an exhausting and emotionally draining hour on the phone. An autistic meltdown is always bad, but it’s ten times worse when you are hours away and unable to help your child.
Half my college girlfriends had headed for bed, but Anne and Dawn were still up. They poured me a glass of wine and asked what had happened. I wasn’t even halfway through the story when my phone rang again. Katie had lost it once more.
The phone reception in Truckee wasn’t good, and the connection was lost. I looked at Dawn and said, “I should go home.”
“No,” she said. “Whatever is happening will be over long before you make it back. You need to stay here and get some sleep. Head home early tomorrow like the rest of us.”
I sighed. She was right. Driving over Donner Pass alone on a snowy night wasn’t a good idea. Especially considering my night vision isn’t as good as it once was. Why had I pushed my luck and stayed a second day?
The phone rang again. I took it upstairs where the reception was better. Once again I talked Jennifer and Nate through the worst of the meltdown, and they managed to get Katie into the body sock, which usually helps to calm her down. As Jennifer counted with Katie, Nate got on the phone. He explained that he was worried Jennifer wouldn’t make it back to Santa Cruz in time for her morning class. (Later he would tell me he was more worried that Katie would hurt her.) He had agreed to spend the night at my house so Jennifer could drive back that night without traffic. But like Jennifer, he had never seen Katie in this state and he was concerned.
“You need to call someone. Jennifer has to leave soon, and I’m not sure I can handle this alone.”
To be continued…
Until next time,