Today it was very clear that Youngest has autism.
I know he’s on the spectrum. This isn’t news. It’s just that things have been going well now for consecutive days. Maybe 4 or 5 days IN A ROW. Oh sure, there have been little things here and there that remind me daily (WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT CHANGE THE BEDTIME ROUTINE), but now that our day to day schedule is back to regular (not one snow day yet this week!) the issues have quieted down. Last week and the week before that and the month before that seem like forever ago when we have a few days in a row of no issues.
But today, oh today…. We had to go to the dentist after school to put sealants on his molars. All of you with children such as Youngest are nodding your heads and saying, “Oh yes, the dentist … I completely understand” because going to the dentist is NOT EASY.
Two weeks ago we had his twice-yearly cleaning appointment, and I called the dental office ahead of time to tell them about Youngest being on the spectrum and how he has anxiety and how they need to be gentle and patient and EXPLAIN EVERYTHING AHEAD OF TIME. Sure, they’ve known Youngest since he was born, but I’ve never told them why he behaves the way he does. I didn’t think I needed to tell them. But after last year’s appointments which did not go well at all, I knew I had to do something. I used to think I could handle his behavior and explain it in real time. Each appointment was an adventure. Not the fun kind of adventure. The bad kind of adventure. Oh how funny and naive I was back then to think I could handle it without telling them.
So I told them, and you know what? This time they were awesome with him! The same woman that last year got all frustrated and annoyed with his fidgeting and his one million questions, well, this time she was so patient and helpful and not at all bothered by Youngest’s behavior. The appointment took a long time, because she did as I had asked, and explained everything to him in a calm easy manner, and he asked his million questions and she replied to each one slowly. I had no idea dental appointments could go so smoothly! So when they told me to bring him back in two weeks for sealants, I didn’t worry one bit.
Today a different woman called him back and as soon as we walked to the edge of the waiting room, he froze. He said “it’s okay … it’s going to be okay” over and over, as I had instructed him to when he’s upset, but his feet weren’t moving. They were like two solid concrete bricks on the floor. His torso continued forward as I was holding his hand and attempting to walk down the hallway, but his feet were planted firmly and had no intention of going anywhere. He crumpled to the floor, still holding my hand and almost pulling my pants down as he grabbed my leg with his other hand on his way down. This I know: I do not have the ability to move an 85 pound human down a hallway. Therefore, in front of the people in the waiting room, and the office staff, and then the patients in the four dental chairs (this office has an open plan design), as I was prodding him to follow the nice lady and that everything would be okay and to take deep breaths and to get up off the floor and to PLEASE MOVE YOUR FEET, it was clear that Youngest was not your typical 8 year old.
The appointment went downhill from there. Not because of the staff. It was clear this new woman had read the notes. She again explained everything, but since it was a different woman, and because the dentist was slightly behind schedule, and because who-knows-why-else, Youngest was worried and fidgety and upset and NOT HAPPY.
While waiting for the dentist to come put on the sealants we went over the plan at least three times. And then the nice grandfather-looking dentist came in. And then he started the procedure — after again explaining exactly what he was going to do. And then seconds after he began, Youngest promptly grabbed the dentist’s hands and the instruments out of his mouth. That kid is FAST. Oh, and he kicked and twisted and there might have been a scream.
Did I mention they wanted to put cotton balls in his mouth to help with the saliva? And that they told him this plan? Ha! We now know you don’t ever mention putting cotton balls in his mouth. That was not pretty.
So we finally finished and he was instructed to pick out one sticker and one toy from the prize box on our way out. This dentist is nice but man he’s got crappy prizes in the prize box. At the last appointment two weeks ago Youngest got the only decent item — a small rubber duckie. This time he spent a good few minutes deciding which sticker to get. He had two he very much wanted and kept going back and forth between them. Picking one up, putting the other down. Over and over. And then, once that was settled, it was on to the prizes. Another few minutes touching each item, as though holding them would help him decide. All of this was done within a few feet of two patients and near the hygienists as they went about their work. We would still be there if I hadn’t just insisted Youngest pick something. Anything. But he couldn’t. Not one prize was interesting or useful. Fine. Whatever. JUST PICK SOMETHING. But wait … I had the perfect solution! Two stickers! Take the two stickers and forget the prize box. Perfect! Um, well, not so great, because, as Youngest reminded me, “they said one sticker and one prize, not two stickers.” Youngest is a rule follower. There was no explaining to him why two stickers would be a good substitute for one sticker and one prize. I felt like I was convincing my 8 year old to commit a crime just by mentioning this option. What it comes down to is that Youngest must follow the rules.
So then we came home. And as he went to his desk to do homework, I grabbed a bottle of wine, the wine opener, and I cried. I haven’t cried about Youngest in a long time. Visiting the dentist was much like taking him for a haircut. Or cutting his finger nails. Or attempting to give him a strep test or drawing blood. During these times there’s no hiding the fact that he’s on the spectrum. I stood there in my kitchen, holding the wine bottle and quietly crying, and wondering why I forget that this is who he is and this is what he does. Or, more specifically, why I didn’t remember.
I think this is what prompted the crying: Our normal is good. Things are going well. I was doing great handling when things didn’t go well (such as when we had the enormous amount of snow days … he’d get upset, cry, yell, fuss, and cut holes in his clothes). Overall, school is pretty good this year and the problems from last year are so far in the past I have to review my notes to remember exactly what went down.
But then the dental office fiasco. A very real example that Youngest has a different way of processing events. An example that no matter how well we prepare, things don’t always go smoothly. And during this dental visit I had a quick vision of Youngest as a teen. A much larger than 85 pound teen. What will I do when he’s bigger and anxious about getting his teeth worked on?
I also asked myself if I was crying because of the looks from others or the knowledge that we were making a scene? No. Not at all. I think it was just a surprise. Things can go all smooth and easy and normal (our normal) and then BOOM.
This behavior is normal, too. That’s the surprise. This experience at the dentist today is normal for Youngest.
And normal for me is to cry sometimes.