Sunday, August 16, 2009

Autism at church part 2: Bitty wears. me. out.

You may recall I posted recently about some of the struggles we've had at church over the years. Just as things started to "click" for Cuddlebug and Bearhug at church, Little Bitty started to really struggle. At the time, he was still attending the nursery, for children 18 mos to 3. More often than not, he went into meltdown mode just at the sight of his classroom door, and even if I went in along with him it made no difference. It became rare for him to actually go in and rarer still for him to go in by himself (or allow me to leave without hysterics - here's just one example from last year). The two of us spent most of our Sundays roaming the hallways at church, making "rainbows" at the water fountain, counting trees in the parking lot, and generally trying to avoid light switches and doors (the objects of intense fascination for Bitty).

Every January, the children who turned 3 the prior year "graduate" from nursery to primary (children's Sunday School). The primary kids have about an hour of "sharing time" where they meet as a group to sing songs and have a short group activity. Then they break up into classes based on age for the last hour. I was dreading it. It took years for Bearhug and Cuddlebug to finally adapt to the whole primary routine without frequent breaks, attempts to escape, or general disruptiveness. I wasn't exactly looking forward to a repeat of that experience (granted, with one instead of two this time - gotta look at the bright side!).

Bitty did about as well as could be expected, considering he really didn't understand what was going on, doesn't like singing, and quickly became obsessed with the microphone at the front of the room. He was forever trying to run up and talk into the microphone, which of course is a pretty obvious disruption. When I took him to the back of the room, he found the light switches and had a ton of fun racing back and forth from one to the other trying to flip them before I could stop him. (Fun for him, not so fun for me). When I tried to take him out of the room he noticed the doors and that would spark a session of open-clooooose-open-cloooooose... you get the idea (the doors have those little hydraulic things so they close slowly and he loves to watch). Again, not quiet especially since he squealed - loudly - with delight with each open-clooooose. When I finally got him out of the room, he'd scream at the top of his lungs, then go running up and down the halls looking for things to climb or get into.

I hoped that he might do better in the small classroom for the last hour, but by then he was very overstimulated and just couldn't do it.

I tried all kinds of things to occupy him so we could at least stay in the primary room with the other kids, but nothing could compete with the microphone, lights, and doors. We soon settled back into our routine of spending 2 hours each Sunday in the hallways or outside. I considered the day a "success" if he stayed fairly close to me (not as much chasing) and didn't have a meltdown (or only had 1 or 2). We went on like that for months.

And then a few weeks ago, I decided to try again. Just baby steps. I took him into the primary room, but instead of sitting with his class, we stayed in the back of the room by ourselves. When I offered him his puzzles, he accepted and we were able to stay there the whole time without incident. I was *amazed,* and humbled when I told my mom about it and she said she had decided that week to stop praying for him to go to class and pray that he would just be able to go into the room. Her prayer had been answered.

Encouraged, I tried again the next week. After a few more weeks I worked up the nerve to try taking him up to the front of the room to sit with his class. That resulted in a set-back as he decided his little chair made a great toy. He was continually moving his chair, then sitting in it and making himself fall over on purpose, then getting up and knocking the chair over again... he returned to his microphone obsession and when his plans were thwarted he protested by stripping. Not all the way, thankfully, just his shirt, shoes, and socks. There was a brief moment he started to tug at his pants / underwear but I was actually able to stop him before he went down that road. (yay!)

We managed to go to his classroom once during that time, but it was such a disaster that I realized I'd pushed too hard and I backed off.

Which brings me to last Sunday, when I decided to give it another try...


Autism at church: part 1
HE DID IT!!!!! (Autism at church, part 3)

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I'm a mom of three boys on the autism spectrum, 11-yr-old identical twins and a 7-yr-old. My husband is a SAHD.


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