Almost immediately I can see my little dude becoming overwhelmed. He paces in wide patterns and circles. He stands on the outermost edge of the group as he possibly can. He’s not looking at any one thing or person, almost manic, his eyes dart all around as his body keeps moving about. When encouraged to come closer to the group, to participate, his protests come in short, loud, outbursts and he moves even farther away. Yet, he won’t step back and take a few moments to calmly watch the group either. This suggestion also brings loud protests. As time goes on his distress worsens. Louder, longer outbursts and lashing out, kicking, spitting, flailing arms. Maya works to bring his focus in by giving him simple direction to follow. We continue to encourage, demonstrate, and coax him. Finally he actually participates for a few minutes. But so soon he is back to the previous behaviors. Every positive reinforcement we give only seems to agitate him more. What little ABA game I brought with me has disappeared. I am struggling to try to help my son. The behaviors escalate. My focus, my tunnel vision, narrows. I see only my little dude. I hear Maya talking and we all work together to bring him out of this meltdown. It takes 3 of us, Grant, Maya, and me, to coral him. I catch him by the arm when instinct and past training lock in and I wrap his arms up in a safety restraining hold that I learned back in college when I worked for the State Department of Mental Health. (At this point I cannot even think about how horrified I should be that I have to again resort to this hold on my own son.) He continues to kick and yell and try to wrench free. We move to the side of the field. I sit down with him, arms still wrapped up and Maya tries to still his jerking, kicking legs. He knows once I sit down with him in this hold things have gotten out of control and we are done. I will absolutely not let go until he comes back completely from the depths of the meltdown. We sit. And we wait.
In his protests he is able to verbalize that it’s too much. That it’s hard for him. Yet, it is hard for him to remove himself from the situation, to sit back and watch. That is painful as well. I am helpless. Nothing seems to take away his panic, his hurt. We continue to sit. As he finally quiets and I calm as well, my heart aches and I cry silently inside, keeping my tears locked up. I have failed my son on this evening. He continues to remain still and I feel his body start to relax. I ease my grip but keep my arms around him. He watches his team continue practice. He says he misses his dad who is down on the field, continuing to work with Lucy who is also on the team. Henry starts to talk, plainly and calmly. He is simply matter-of-fact. As if nothing distressful happened. He begins to smile and joke and tell funny stories. My heart fills with joy and love that I have for my son. But the ache, it too has stayed with me for a week now…and I wonder if I will be able to handle things at another practice tonight. I am anxious and worried and sad. This failing is not of my son’s but of my own.