I swear it seems that any time a person (usually another parent or friend) tells me that they just can't tell that J.R. has any sort of social delays or signs of PDD-NOS, he is sure to have not one, but several reaffirming PDD moments. It's like they happen to remind me that yes, it's real. Yes, I'm not just making up these stories.
When my son was young, it seemed like he loved the vacuum. He'd crawl around the house, find the vacuum, pull up and stand next to it, and just stare. He wasn't scared of it, it seemed, for so long. In fact, he seemed infatuated with it. It was a little odd, I admit, but cute, nonetheless. It was nice that I didn't have a screaming toddler when I vacuumed. Today, I realized that those days are gone. Honestly, I think they disappeared after our last vacuum broke and we threw it out. With that vacuum when J.R.'s comfort; this is the first vacuum change in his life.
The best thing I ever did was make a weekly chore list for J.R. that doesn't change. He's very good at doing his chores as long as it's routine. Recently, we had to change his Wednesday chore from vacuuming his room to sweeping the kitchen (you'll understand why as you keep reading, I hope). J.R. asks every week about this, "We don't have to vacuum, right?" He knows, but he wants and needs reassurance. Today I, being the wonderful mother I am, said, "Oh, why don't I vacuum the living room while you sweep the kitchen?" Sounds reasonable, right?
J.R. responded immediately by plugging his ears and hysterically trying to clamber to his room. Remember how wonderful of a mom I am? I grabbed him, trying to be a tease, and forced him into the living room. Seeing the sheer terror on his face and the tears brimming, I decided the force had to go and the understanding had to come. I calmly asked what, why, and how the vacuum terrified him. He couldn't really answer me definitively, although he tried.
I decided to try something. I let him hold the plug and touch the vacuum. I encouraged him to push the on/off switch; and touch all over the vacuum. I wanted him to get to know the vacuum. When I could see he was still completely terrified after plugging it in, I led him to his bedroom. While sitting on his bed, we practiced plugging his ears for three counts, then not plugging his ears for three counts. Then we took turns being the vacuum while the other person counted and plugged. When he felt comfortable enough, I went and vacuumed the living room while he plugged and counted. No screaming, running, slamming doors, or tears ensued. It was a small success. I then asked him to unplug the vacuum for me. He asked me to go with him, and so I did.
This is not the only irrational fear that my son has. This is only ONE of them. Dealing with these fears has been very difficult and yet educational for me. The biggest breakthrough for me was when I finally admitted that I didn't understand them, and then asked myself how could I understand. That's when I realized that I have fears that seem irrational to others. My irrational fears usually have to do with reptiles, amphibians, and the dark.
We seem to think that dealing with our fears head on and jumping in to them is the way to "get over them," or that doing these pranks (like me pulling my son into the living room) will help us; that it will be therapeutic. The truth is, I think it's actually more detrimental. How would I feel if someone stuck a snake around my neck, or even worse, a frog down my shirt? I'd probably scream! (Now, don't get any ideas.) And then, I would never trust that person near me again with anything moving. EVER.
How did my son feel today when I was carrying him to the vacuum? How did he feel when I turned it on, even just for three seconds, without his permission? I daresay he felt violated. I took the trust and stomped on it. That's why we did the "vacuum therapy." I had to regain his trust.
I find that I have to constantly rebuild trust with him. It pains me that I have to do this because it means that I keep breaking that trust. It's hard. I don't fully understand, and I never will. The one thing I want, though, is for my child to feel like he can always come back to me. I need to figure this one out.
How do you deal with your child's irrational fears?