Zoey was having a good time in Sunday school this morning. She was alternating between coloring and trying to get the “emergency supplies” out of her backpack. These include emergency fruit snacks, a bolus syringe, mic-key extension, thickener for water, and medical gloves. She was cracking up when I said, “Stop getting out the supplies. There is NO emergency here!” It’s funny interactions like these that help her stay happy while doing an activity she doesn’t excel at.
The next activity is always the hardest for her. She has to sit on the carpet to hear the Bible story of the day. This gives her anxiety because she is anticipating the fun video that our wonderful Sunday school teacher usually shows after each story. Videos gives an engaging auditory and visual experience that appeal to Zoey more than just an oral presentation. Oral stories, quite frankly, bore her. The wait for this reward is so hard, but she knows it is coming at some point.
Today I whispered in her ear as she fussed, “Hold on Zoey, in just a few minutes you will see the video version.” I softly sang song lyrics from her favorite songs in her ears over and over to calm her. Today our teacher bought some really neat black and white cartoon illustrations to go with her oral presentation on the birth of Jesus. Zoey didn’t even look at because she had her eyes closed in protest, while making snoring noises, When the story time was over, she expected the amazing recap video. There was none. None. I felt a switch go off in my little girl who was tucked in my lap. She started to grind her teeth.
When I got her attention, the look on her face was, “Mom, I’m trying to hold this together, but I’m truly upset about the video.” Luckily, the craft activity involved scissors! These dangerous craft tools are Zoey’s favorite. She loves waving them around and hearing me say, “That’s dangerous. We don’t wave around scissors.” One of her church friends said, “That really could poke someone’s eye out.” Zoey, looked at her, and immediately stopped waving them and started cutting with assistance! Yay for peer pressure and for Zoey responding to it! We cut out five pieces from the manger scene, and then pasted them onto black paper. However, the whole time she was grinding her teeth, and I believe she was thinking about how the video didn’t happen.
I noticed her anxiety escalating and took out the emergency fruit snacks. This helped a bit, but then our package of fruit snacks was gone! Our Sunday school teacher noticed the fussing, and got out the Sunday School fruit snacks. (My hero!) It helped for about one minute while Zoey chowed down. However, Zoey freaked out when they were gone, too, and started tearing up her craft! She then got up and tried to get more fruit snacks from the Sunday school room cabinet. The assistant, thankfully, blocked the way. This made Zoey more frustrated. The crying and screaming got worse, so we left. Technically it was time to leave anyway, but I hate leaving when she is upset because if she was screaming to escape the situation, I just reinforced that behavior.
After that, Zoey refused to wear shoes, and I gave up. We saw a few of my friends in the fellowship area and I did a short, “We’re having a day,” but didn’t bother trying to stay for fellowship time. I try not to say, “bad day,” because giving it a negative label makes Zoey escalate more.
So what set Zoey off today? I had to work some Behavioral Analysis magic and think about it a bit. It probably is obvious to you because you read about the meltdown after I figured it out! Ha! It ended up being a video, or lack there of a video. It seems silly that this all started because of the lack of a video. None of the other kids in her class were phased by the change in the usual flow of Sunday school. The difference between Zoey and her peers are numerous (non-verbal, problems swallowing, fine and gross motor delay, short stature, has a g-tube, etc). In fact, one boy today asked why she speaks like a baby. I replied, to lighten the mood for Zoey, “She doesn’t. Her favorite character is Curious George. She can speak monkey, not baby.” Zoey exclaimed in a sing song tone that she agreed. The other kids then focused on Curious George, something they all agreed that they liked as well, instead of Zoey’s differences.
However, Zoey does have one very big difference, Autism. It doesn’t ruin Zoey’s whole day, but it can ruin moments of it. Today, Zoey had what seems to most people a “bad day”. Unlike a neurotypical kid, Zoey’s “bad day” lasts only as long as she is in that particular environment or situation. As soon as she is back in a familiar situation, her “bad day” goes away.
So today, it seemed as though we were struggling quite a bit at church, and we were, but once we got in the car and listened to some good music on our way home, Zoey’s whole demeanor had changed. Her big sister carried her to the car because she wasn’t wearing shoes, and Zoey laughed as she put her Booginhead PaciPal stuffed animal on Mya’s shoulder. Mya said her usual response to a PaciPal on her shoulder, “Don’t put your (animal here) on my shoulder. It’s weird, and gross, and makes me feel uncomfortable. You don’t care about my feelings.” This familiar interaction started some crazy giggling leading to a calming process.
Once Zoey was buckled in, and the radio turned on, the teeth grinding stopped, the tears completely dried up, and when we got home she was belly laughing. Me? Not so much. My silly neurotypical brain holds onto a bad moment and lets it ruin the whole day! I’m trying to be more like Zoey. I need to leave the “bad moment” behind, dry my tears, and belly laugh. Lesson learned, Zoey. Thank you.