It hits like a bus from around a blind turn. Sensory exhaustion. I don’t like to call it a meltdown. Although it is as if the senses, and their ability to sort and process everything they receive, are just melting away. But, meltdowns really happen – and that’s a whole different event. This is more like a tug-of-war between experiencing too much and experiencing nothing at all. And for us, at times, it seems to come from nowhere. In the midst of a perfectly lovely day, one overpowering smell or sound or taste or feel (those darn tags!) can change everything.
Today started a little distracted – but, we’re used to that. We have systems in place now to cope with the challenges of ADHD. They don’t always work, but they help. That’s all we can ask. A few extra reminders, a little back-tracking, and we were on our way. There was no sun this morning. Usually the sun is our enemy in the morning, as we are driving directly toward it, and it becomes an assault on the eyes. I thought we were safe today, but it backfired on me. “I need to just be home today. I shouldn’t be out when there’s no sun.” The logic was perfectly sound to him. It was lost on me. I try to push through it, remembering not to dismiss or belittle his feelings, but to just try to understand them. And then, maybe, work around them. No tears. No meltdown. Maybe we’re good now.
We arrived at our destination and the cars were parked differently somehow. This has never mattered to him in this place before. Today, it mattered a lot. When we got inside, suddenly there was a smell that sent him into a state of anxious agitation. I never smelled anything. Usually I can smell whatever it is that has set him off. A pungent food or perfume can be a trigger. Today……I didn’t smell anything. I didn’t know how to lead him away from it because I didn’t know where it was coming from. No real tears and we were able to move on in a relatively short period of time. We’re good.
Then the fatigue hits. I’ve decided this is his body shutting down to try to stop the assaults on his senses. He clings to me, can be weepy, but mostly is just tired. On occasion, he has fallen asleep within minutes of getting buckled into the car after sensory overload moments. I hate that we get stuck here so often. Sometimes I just can’t let him sleep – we’re not at a time or place where it’s possible. If he can sleep, even for only 10 minutes, it is beneficial. That’s not always an option, and we’re stuck at fatigued and overloaded.
This episode of sensory overload, part of the Asperger’s personality, was very understated. Almost as if it occurred in slow motion. The common thread was ‘home.’ There was a dire need to be at home today. No outbursts. No tantrum. Just a quiet, urgent plea to go home. I always struggle with the desire to give in and help him find peace by fulfilling his needs, and the desire to help him learn to live in those uncomfortable spaces and make him fight his way through it. There must be a balance, but I never know the right answer. Sometimes I feel I don’t have the strength to decipher the moment. Today, I gave in. We went home.
Home is not where I was meant to be today. Today was a special day – a Day of Service. It was a day planned for doing things for others and I was looking forward to it. My reasons for wanting to be a part of this day were probably much more selfish than I’d like to admit. It wasn’t just about helping someone. I needed this day. I needed a day outside of my own nonsense, one all about bringing a little more peace to someone else. That’s where I find my own peace, in someone else’s smile. Selfish. I know. But the good is done no matter what. And, I own that shallow part of my giving. That’s who I am and I’m okay with that.
I wasn’t there. I gave in to my son’s pleading and walked away from the Day of Service. I walked away from where I wanted to be, where I thought I was supposed to be. I sat with my son and cried for what seemed like an eternity, struggling with who I was supposed to be at that moment. Who do I become now? The humble servant doing good works in the world, or the loving mom soothing a hurting child. If I push my child to a meltdown, I feel guilty for not honoring his cries for help. If I walk away from serving I feel guilty for not fulfilling my promises. I lose no matter what I choose.
I have come to terms with much of what it means to be mom to my son. It means no scented candles, no Chinese food, no opera music, no sisal rugs. It means fleece in the summertime and bare feet in the winter. It means repeating directions several times and hearing him repeat nonsense words for hours at a time. It means a lot of time with dictionaries and encyclopedias. It’s inventions made each day and old toys that will never go away. It means everyday is a new adventure with mysterious discoveries.
It also means walking away from what I want more often than I care to. Dinners, theatre – there’ll be other chances for all that. But, the more I walk away from things like Day of Service, the more I feel like my identity is crumbling. Each time I walk away, it’s harder to walk back.