Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Connector to the Rescue!

As I sat I the hotel, completely over-stimulated and overwhelmed, I sobbed, "Please God, help me! You have to help me. This isn't working."

The difference between a meltdown and a tantrum is that a tantrum stops when the child gets what they want. As if a switch was flipped. A meltdown looks very similar, but nothing will stop it. Often the person needs physical intervention from someone else to recover. With our kiddo things that help reset him are:  a quiet space, a dark room and the iPad.  GOD BLESS the iPad!

The kiddo is seven. Due to Fragile X, cognitively he is about half that. He has been about half of his age all of his life. We see developmental progress it is just verrrrry slooooowly. Basically, imagine a three a half year old in a fifty two pound body. He gets completely over stimulated in big spaces or places with other children crying, running, etc., etc.  The grocery store, Target, Costco… all of these fit that bill perfectly. 

From the time he has been very little, his response to over-stimulation is to sit on the floor or crawl under a table, tell you he is “stuck” and start to cry.  If he isn't “rescued” he will start to sob and eventually will work himself up into gagging and throwing up. And you ask why we don’t go to birthday parties… but that is a story for another day.  

Up to this point in his life when he is stuck or on the verge of a meltdown  I just pick him up, plop him on my hip and voila! He is no longer stuck. Sure it means I get to carry him home for a couple of blocks, but that’s just the Wonder Mommy that I am… and weight bearing exercise is good for the bones.. right?

As he has approached 50 pounds (he is seven now) and I started needing to go to the chiropractor due to my back being pulled out I realized that throwing him on my hip was no longer an option. So we began to take the stroller with us.. to the park… when he goes for a bike ride. Just in case he gets stuck / melts down. 

This new option looks like this: we head to the park, he gets there just fine by running which revs his emotional engine the whole way there (It’s sooo exciting!!) he plays on the equipment until he is completely overwhelmed, plops on the ground, informs us he is stuck and starts to cry. 

The Stroller to the Rescue! 

We pick him up, plop him in the stroller and head for home.  Sure, he sobs for about half a block and when we get home the transition up the stairs is really rough… but he recovers in about 20 minutes in a dark room with the iPad and the world is fine again.

Our approach to shopping is slightly modified: get-in-get-out!  At Target we get through the door, immediately plop him in a cart, with an iPad and a snack. We hurry through the store praying that we don’t encounter a small child crying. If we do we race in the opposite direction because he is very susceptible to emotional contagion. He can “catch” other’s emotions very very easily. (We always warn his teacher not to be too emotional while reading books to the class.) 

If he is not in a cart at the store he will race down the aisle (imagine that nice long, wide aisle… the one right by the checkouts), fall on the floor, start to cry... We typically rescue him immediately. Due to our quick thinking, we haven’t cleaned up vomit off of the floor in a store in a looong time. But I still have am flooded with adrenaline as I think  about that time in Toys R Us. If we can get him in a cart within about 15 seconds of being stuck we are good.  If not he will sob all the way to the car. Such has been our lives for .. oh… a long time. 

You can imagine a trip out in public is like and the level of stress I have when we enter a store. Constantly on edge… waiting for the bomb that is our child to erupt. And for the most part we are successful.

But that day, as I was given time to reflect, I was the one completely overwhelmed.

We were in the middle of a parent immersion workshop with the husband and wife team from PACE Place in Oregon.  They offer a immersion weekend in which they do a couple days of parent training and then spend a day with you and your child going wherever you want. They requested that we choose two things to work on. One of my things was our difficulty with “getting stuck.”

That morning we picked up Eric and headed to Target. Per his instructions I carried the kiddo into the store. We went right past the carts. The kiddo was thrilled! We get to WALK! Which, in his head means “I get to RUN!”  We headed down the aisle by the checkouts. We attempted to have him hold my hand but he was interested in running ahead. No surprises there. Eric suggested we head down an aisle. 

The kiddo was not interested in the least in what we were doing. He was interested in RUNNING and LAUGHING.. which always ends badly. Eric told us to hide behind the end of the aisle to see if he would come and find us.  Again, nope! I heard him laughing hysterically, running down the main aisle. I looked at my husband, “here we go…” I said, convinced it was the beginning of the end.  Eric brought him back and said, “You know what? You and Dad get to be best friends.”  And he hooked him up with The Connector.  (cue the angels singing)

Basically it is two belts.  One for the parent, one for the child.  There is a thin cord about 2 feet long that connects them.  Look here for a picture:

As soon as they were connected Timothy immediately calmed. Eric told my husband, “show him something.”  We were in the dishes aisle. My husband picks up a plate. “Oh!  Look!” The kiddo immediately is mesmerized “WOW… cool Dad!” And he was calm. And they side by side down the aisle, through the electronics, through the toys. For about a half an hour. No meltdowns, no screaming, no getting stuck. 

And that afternoon we went to Trader Joe’s and Costco and Caribou Coffee… in a row.  No screaming, no meltdowns, no getting stuck. It was like a miracle.  Joint attention, creating relationship… It was amaaazing. It isn't a safety device. It isn't like those harness / leash things where the kid pulls you like a dog would and you keep them from running off.

You are connected by Velcro, which, if they pulled hard enough would detach.  Eventually we will use less Velcro and they can learn to “fix the relationship” when it gets broken. But we are a ways away from there.

Not only does it stop the meltdowns from happening, it will diffuse one. We went to the park, he got stuck. I connected him and we walked back to the car and transitioned just fine into the house. No iPad needed. Seriously! My stress level has decreased a ton! AMAZING STUFF!

He was in the car and decided he was stuck and started to cry. I said, “Oh, I am going to connect with you!” He sat up, said, “I hold you Mommy!”  gave me a hug, got out of the car on his own and walked up the stairs. Our PCA was with us and we just held our breath the entire walk up the stairs into the house.  AMAZED.

We had issues when I would drop him off at school. If you haven’t chased a seven year old down the hallway three times.. once in front of a class of second graders you really haven’t lived. With the Connector he stays with me.  No falling to the floor. Did I mention it’s amazing??

Of course the other question that begs to be answered is, “WHY DOESN’T EVERYONE KNOW ABOUT THIS?!?!?!” But for now it remains unanswered….

AND the best part? My stress level is starting to decrease as well.