A bumper bashing, a meltdown and why communication matters!
We were involved in a bumping bashing last week, when a car did not stop at a red traffic light and drove into us from the rear. No one was injured however Savannah went into shock as her muscles went into spasm. She was incoherent and could not stop crying. The ensuing sirens, bystanders that gathered, the possibility of being taken to hospital, coupled with this situation being totally new to her, was all too much. Savannah rarely had “meltdowns” of this nature, so for us it was very hard to watch her in this state. She struggled to hear me and stay focused on my words of reassurance (this is what sensory overload does).
We eventually left the scene and played her favourite songs all the way home. She relaxed a little and while she was no longer incoherent, she was certainly fixated on what had happened. I was fearful that like so many other “incidents” that occurred in her past; she would hold onto it and not want to get into the car again. After her first bad experience when a doctor pinned her down at 18 months old; it took about 7 years of undoing before a doctor could examine her without a “fight or flight” showdown. If that happened again, it would be very difficult for us to undo.
We were tense and tired when we arrived home and could just manage to take care of her physical complexities, hoping that she might sleep peacefully. So it was very touching when that night, Lisa Ellis, my boss at Inclusive Solutions, sent Savannah a story in symbol format about her own experience of being in a car accident when she was a young girl. As I read it to Savannah, she began talking about her own feelings: “Mum, me scared”; “loud bang”; ”no hospital for me”; “Me be okay?” and after more tears and lengthier conversations she asked “What is Lisa’s mom’s name?”. I read the story to her a few times as per her request, and then she just held onto her printed copy for a while.
For Savannah, it helps when she works though difficulties quickly after it happens. So a day later, we went to the watch “The Minion Movie”. She showed no signs of distress at getting into the car and enjoyed the outing thoroughly. She has not spoken about the accident again, and is now fixated on planning her birthday party.
Savannah’s reaction to Lisa’s story reminded me how often parents, teachers and therapists assume that a person with ASD and communication disorders is not feeling or thinking something just because they can’t say it. By Lisa using her own experience to identify with Savannah and share it in a language that Savannah understood, has made all the difference in helping Savannah to verbalise what she was feeling in the midst of her anxiety. This is a big deal for a girl who spends much of her time trying to “be calm” on an ordinary day.
And a reminder to all of us that people with ASD and people who are non-verbal also have feelings, and when given the right supports, they are able to express their feelings and thoughts.