A very special 3 year old. A writing of love, hope & challenge.
|Grammy’s Special Lil’ Man
I wonder at times, as I observe him and interact with him, if his is a tortured childhood, or is it joyful? I have come to the conclusion, as best I can since he cannot talk to me about it, that it is a combination of both—as if two separate worlds have collided and merged, each taking its turn at affecting his reality. One is a world filled with joy, love, and excited exploration; the other, a world of frustration, anxiety, distress, and some other component which I have not yet been able to place. There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to when each world steps in to take over for the other, or for how long it will remain the dominant influence over him.
I care for my grandson daily when my daughter is at work. He usually arrives at my house with exuberance, jumping up and down with glee. Braxten and I are very close, and he loves being near me. But within moments, his sheer joy of being here melts away and is soon replaced by a frustrated, shrill screeching sound, and distress seems to cloud his expression.
That is my cue that it is time to give him his sippy cup. He reaches out and snaps it up from me as quickly as he can and begins drinking from the cup almost desperately. The sippy cup is one of his comfort items. You see, the excitement of arriving at Grandma's house, although it makes him very happy, results in over-stimulation which, in turn, becomes an overwhelming moment for him. As he sips at the cup, he calms down, and his expression softens into a more peaceful one. Everything is good in his world again.
His ability to communicate his needs and wants is minimal. This results in more frustration for him. He knows some basic sign language, but sadly it isn't adequate to fully communicate what he wants. In some cases, I can relate his signing to the situation and promptly understand what it is he is trying so hard to convey, but usually this isn't the case. I try hard to understand, but it isn't an easy task. He knows exactly what it is that he wants or thinks or feels. He just doesn't always know how to share this with me in a way I can grasp. I have worked with him tediously and finally managed to get him to take my hand and lead me to the desired object. But when it is not something he can lead me to nor something he can express to me, it breaks my heart and sets him off big time! Often, he will begin slapping himself—or sometimes me. It isn't his intention to be mean. He is just trying desperately to get his point across.
There are days that we refer to as "good" days, times when he is primarily happy and content. Then there are his "bad" days, the days when it just seems there is no way to please him. He has what might be interpreted as extreme temper tantrums that last for hours, or he is super creative in finding ways to do the things he is not supposed to be doing. A visit to my home, or even his home, will reveal a lot. There are chain locks on interior and absolutely on every exterior door. He is a master escape artist. So what's a person to do? Recently, my daughter had to have door alarms installed because he actually stacked things so he could climb to reach the chain locks and attempt to escape. Thankfully, I have not yet faced this challenge at my house.
Transition is hard on him. Movements as simple to us as getting out of the car can be traumatic to Braxten because he knows he is about to shift into a different environment, an environment he may even enjoy, but that transfer from one place to an unknown destination can often upset him. We’ve learned, however, that if he initiates the change, decides on his own to get up and go outside to play or that it is time for Grammy to play with him, it doesn't have the same ill effect on him. I think when it comes to people on the spectrum, whether they are a child or an adult, it is important to explain what is about to happen before it happens. I truly believe that just because they may struggle with communicating to us, it doesn't mean they don't understand what we are communicating to them. They may not always like what you have to tell them, but then, how is that any different from the rest of us?
Although my grandson is considered to be non-verbal, we are lucky in that, at times, we can get him to repeat certain words or short sentences and especially kids’ songs when we strongly encourage him to do so. Sometimes, he may repeat the words right away or he may wait and say them after a long quiet pause. But many times, you can just flat out forget it, even when he may have spoken the same words previously. One of the phrases he has recently been saying, even without our prodding, is "thank you" when you hand him his sippy cup. We work hard to teach him good manners! But I have to admit, my favorite thing to hear him say is "wuv you." It is a hit-and-miss process getting him to articulate, but when he tells me he "wuvs" me, my heart just melts, especially when he offers those sweet little words on his own without mimicking me.
Braxten has moderately severe autism, living on the spectrum, and is Grammy’s special, precious little man!