Friday, February 3, 2012

Unprepared: volcanoes and small children

We do not live in a very hip and happening suburb. On a Friday evening there is a choice of Pak'N'Save (discount supermarket), a bar promising me GIRLS ONSTAGE, and the late-night closing of our local library. So the library it was. I am currently working my way through the children's New Zealand geography section. There I found a book marked 'Volcanoes.' Leafing through casually, I read with some alarm that our city was in a particularly volcanically active area. All those beautiful shore views of extinct volcanos, I now realise, are not actually extinct at all. They're dormant, or even active. They could go off at any moment. The book had an inset into this page remarking how important it was - for all residents of New Zealand, but PARTICULARLY those living in our area - to have a full disaster survival kit in the house at all times. Hmm. Funny how the estate agents neglected to mention this.

When the carer support and respite woman came yesterday, I had an experience that was somewhat equivalent to discovering that the green and pleasant landscape into which you have just embedded your family and your lifesavings is a seething mass of unstable volcanic activity. It was to do with Number Three child, who was the only one at home. "You should make sure you do the one thing that is guaranteed to set your child off just before the assessor arrives," I was advised by everyone in the know. "Hide his obsessional object or something." I fully intended to - all it would have taken was removing his toy hammer - but a sudden rush of tenderness and conscience came upon me at 9.25, and I decided that no, I was going to let him alone, hoping that his cherubic little face and calm demeanour would not seem too, well, you know, placid and normal.

I needn't have worried. As it happened, Number Three - who has not played a great part in this blog so far, mainly because he is so small, sweet and portable, and because it is easy to deal with a tantrum from a child who is still small enough to be hooked under your arm, rugby-style - decided that this was his big chance. He began by being very sweetly and stereotypically autistic by taking all his brother's cars and lining them up on the sofa. Then he demanded his hammer. I found it for him, he toddled out of the room, then lost it, and all hell broke lose until I recovered it five minutes later. This pattern persisted for much of the morning. If the hammer wasn't in reach he was immediately furious. He alternated between banging random things with the hammer, lining up the cars, and trying to jump off the sofa (this would be normal for a two-eyar-old, but what wasn't normal was the way he persisted, refusing distraction, when I hid the cushion he was using in the office he went, found a stool, and climbed up to open the door and get it back. Twice). He demanded food - then refused it - demanded juice, then refused it because I gave it to him directly, which he doesn't like. He threw the juice at me, then screamed to have it back. He hit me, repeatedly, not just out of frustration but seemingly for fun. He couldn't cope with the highchair being moved to a new place and had a meltdown. There was another meltdown when he found a stool had a wobbly leg and he spent a lot of time screaming "mess! mess!" and trying obsessively to pick spots of dust off the carpet floor. He showed no imaginative play whatsoever, and when he banged the stool and I asked him if it was a drum, he said "NO!" with such distaste that he might as well have added "Doncha know I am on the spectrum, muvva?" To cap it all, he demonstrated his newest obsession by standing in the kitchen for several minutes screaming "Knife! Knife! Knife!" and trying to reach up and grab our breadknife from the bench, then going back in to try and get it when my back was turned.

None of this would have been obvious to anyone who didn't know anything about autism of course. I am sure the kindergarten teacher would have watched him all morning and declared that he had lovely eyecontact, and what on earth was I worried about? But if you do know your stuff, the pattern of behaviour was so obvious that the assesssor kept commenting on it.

After she'd left, I looked at my sweet, adorable, tiny son. Placid and gentle and unthreatening, like the glorious countryside in which we have landed. He is so smiley and happy and delighted with our company that it is easy to forget, you know, that he has a working diagnosis. But this morning was a salutory reminder of how very - mildly - differently - he - behaves. Oh Lordy, I thought, I do hope we are not sitting on a simmering volcano here, and there isn't going to be an eruption of dreadful behaviour in a year or so's time. When he isn't so tiny, and he isn't so easily satisfied, when his wants in life are more than a small plastic hammer, what on earth are we going to do?

We can't afford to buy the ingredients for a home emergency kit at the moment. We just can't, we are going to have to stock up bit by bit, and hope that the earthquake, tsunami or volcanic eruption doesn't happen for a few months. We are, however, investing quite a bit of our money into ABA-style therapy. At a time when we consider the cost of a weekend family packet of crisps, I have wondered if it was a poor choice, if we were wasting our time. After this morning, I thought thank goodness we are bothering. You can't prevent a volcano erupting, but you can do something to make sure that you are prepared when it happens. I damn well hope the therapy will have some beneficial effect on the little lad, but if not at the very least we are learning some behavioural strategies that will - like a dustmask - help us cope with the explosions, if and when they begin to occur.

1 comment:

  1. Gosh, I'm surprised you didn't know that NZ has active volcanoes!

    Generally, with volcanoes, there is warning - seismologists/vulcanologists monitor & can see activity building up, so even though you might not know exactly when, you'll have an idea if something is becoming more active. Earthquakes are the bigger concern (and that reminds me - we need to update our emergency kits). They come out of the blue. I know you are super busy, but spend a few minutes educating yourself (if you don't already know) on earthquake drill, figure out the safe spots in your house and make sure the older boys know the drill. The school probably does drills, but you might as well check with them. :)

    (I do sound a bit blase about volcanoes, don't I? We can see the biggest one in N. America from our bedroom window, but supposedly - it's overdue - when it goes, it will erupt towards the SW, and we are NW of it, by about 50 miles).