The lights are off in our home more and more lately and it’s not because we are trying to save on our electric bill (though that would be nice). It seems that just about the time we have struggled through a particular behavior with our sweet boy, his Autism begins to manifest itself in some other new way. In the last two weeks, our son has begun a new set of behaviors that are taking some getting used to…and are keeping us in the dark.
Ezra used to walk through the house making sure that every light switch was turned on. Darkness seemed to frighten him. Our entire home would be lit up whether there was one person home, or an entire house full of people. So, I found it peculiar when one afternoon I realized that the lights in our house had not been turned on. I wandered back to Ezra’s room where he had been playing with his trains to find my sweet boy curled up in a tight little ball, in the darkest corner of his room, with his hands over his ears, eyes shut tight, and he was rocking back and forth. I panicked. He had never done this before. I just knew that he must have gotten hurt or something must be very wrong. So, as any good momma would, I got down on the floor with him and tried to comfort him. Ezra did not want comfort. Ezra did not want to be touched. And he made that very clear. I sort of staggered back down the hallway with an aimless walk…what was I to do? So, I just waited for my little boy to come out of his protective little ball. Two hours later he came out and it seemed he had recovered from whatever “it” was that had bothered him so.
Ezra used to show that he was overstimulated or on “sensory overload” by spitting, throwing, screaming, or aggression. He still does these things but as the days have gone on, his new behavior of sitting in dark corners, in a tight ball, with his hands over his ears have increased. This may seem strange, but I have found myself thinking – I liked it better when he would just spit. Or I wish he would just throw something instead. Why on earth would I think this? There just seems to be something so defeating about a little four-year old boy seeking out the darkest corner so he can shut the world away – his momma included. At least with his previous behaviors there was contact. Too much contact? Yes. Were the previous behaviors frustrating and destructive? Yes. But I was able to be hands-on in helping him to calm himself and overcome. Now, I am finding myself fumble through the house like an awkward teenager who doesn’t know what to do with their self. I want to help and comfort and my son is very clearly letting me know that he best way to do that, is to back off.
Then, one day last week, it took two full hours after Ezra had gotten off of the bus before I saw his face. He kept his face buried in his little hands and was softly whimpering. I took him home where he positioned himself in a corner of the kitchen until he was ready to “come out” of his hiding. Once he was done, the day went on as usual. He obviously just needed that time.
The next morning is what tipped me over the edge. As our usual routine goes, I woke him up, got him dressed for school, and we were walking hand-in-hand out of his room to go eat some breakfast. Ezra stopped at his door way, he released my hand, reached up and turned off his bedroom light, and looked me straight in the eyes as he closed his bedroom door…shutting himself in, and me out.
I did not know what to do with myself. I stood staring at the closed door for quite a while. I listened. I waited. Finally, when I couldn’t stand it any longer, I cracked the door open just enough to get a peek. Ezra had crawled back up on his bed and was sitting in a tight ball, eyes closed, hands over his ears, and he was rocking. I closed the door. As much as I wanted to go into his room and try to hold him and help calm him, I knew I had to respect the fact that he had very clearly sent me a message that he needed some alone time. About thirty minutes later, he came out and was ready to take on the day.
I was so sad. To me, this new behavior was so dis-heartening. I had to talk to someone…I called one of the many special people who work with Ezra on a consistent basis. I needed to know what to do. I did not get the response I thought I would.
This is a “good thing”. Yes, we talked about Ezra for a long time, but the main “take away” for me was that Ezra’s new behavior is actually his new coping mechanism. Ezra has found something that works for him! He discovered it on his own and it’s a way that he can cope with all of the sensory input that tends to overwhelm him. It is not destructive. It is not harmful. In a way, this is a victory.
Perspective. That was exactly what I needed.
So, if you happen to venture our way, and you see that the lights are off…it doesn’t necessarily mean that nobody’s home. It is very likely that my sweet little man is working. He is working to overcome, working to cope, working so that he can bring himself out of his hiding place to enjoy the rest of his day.
It’s different. It’s new. It will take some getting used to. But I am beginning to appreciate the darkness. The darkness offers him comfort right now. It’s a comfort that I cannot offer. It’s a step of independence. Even though the Momma in me wants to hold on tightly, I am so proud of Ezra for finding a way to independently sooth himself.
I have no idea if this will be his forever coping mechanism or if it will change again. For now, the lights are off, but everyone’s home!