Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Cactus Hour and Anti-Meltdown Shopping

Cactus Hour
It's school holidays right now in Australia. In theory, the disappearance of the whole mum's taxi "rush-rush" to school and after-school activities should mean a reduction in my wife's stress levels - and consequently, my own.

Instead, "cactus hour", that uncomfortable first hour when the husband comes home from work hoping for rest but instead being lumped with all of the day's domestic problems, is worse than usual.

Freed from the daily routine of school, my wife and kids instead fill their hours with unstructured "free time" and "surprises" both of which are problematic for the aspie mindset.

I'm not criticizing the way they do things. Far from it, after all, they're entitled to a break and they seem to be having fun. I'm simply making an observation. The changes to routine, while providing freedom, also tend to unsettle my kids making domestic and disciplinary problems worse.

In my own annoying way, I've already pointed this out to my wife who replied, "but I love surprises...". She's right of course, surprises can be fun. She's also right to allow "surprises" into our otherwise cosy and routine little world. These surprises provide challenges for our children. After all, too much routine and predictability could lull our kids into a false sense of security. It's best that they learn to cope with at least some of life's surprises.

Anti-Meltdown Shopping
All of this (temporary) new stress in our lives means that the kids are somewhat on edge and that the slightest little provocation is enough to push them over - and into a meltdown.

This leads me neatly into my current problem. Scouring the shops in search of a replacement whoopie cushion. Sydney isn't well known for its magic/joke shops and the four I visited had all been shut down. There were no whoopie cushions in the eleven newsagents I visited either - nor in the three department stores.

All this shopping means that there's no lunch for me either. I'm too busy searching for a trinket - and it's not the first time that something like this has happened. In fact, it only seems a couple of weeks ago that I was desperately searching for a Spongebob book, when nothing else would do.

It doesn't matter that I specifically warned my son, the previous night, not to jump on the cushion. I knew what would happen you see. Nothing else will calm him except dad promising on the phone (at work, during an important meeting), that I'd bring a replacement one home for him.

In any case, it was his brother who popped the cushion and my emergency shopping spree isn't just to satisfy my son - it's also to protect his brother.

To Give In or Not to Give In?
I'm sure that any grey-rinsed neurotypical grandparents out there would love to tell me that all this child needs is a good spanking (I'm stereotyping rudely here - my apologies in advance) but I'm not so sure that this is the answer.

True; according to my definition of a meltdown, my son has too much control. It's more like "temper". The thing is though, that unlike controlled temper tantrums, he doesn't have a specific objective in mind. He doesn't know that I can (hopefully) easily replace the cushion. All he knows is that his "world" has collapsed (he was focussing on the toy) and that his brother is to blame.

For this post, there are none. The main point that I'm making is that we, as parents need to pick our battles. There's no sense in attempting to apply behaviour modifications to an upset autistic child in a meltdown. We need to take the "moment" into account. We need to recognise when our children are subject to additional stresses, even those of our own making - and we need to make allowances.

BTW: While I was creating the graphic to go with this story, I was informed that the "popping" happened on the trampoline.


eaucoin said...

My sypathies are with you. When my kids were little, they wanted us to own a Nintendo like everybody else. We lived across the street from a store that rented out the machines and games, and on a snow day off school I might rent a Nintendo for the day. I always introduced rules up front (for length of turns, etc.), and in spite of everyone's best intentions, overstimulation would result in cranky children and sore thumbs all round. I held the line based on my experience, since I knew the limits of my sanity. Here's to your wife and yourself surviving the holidays. You should go through the yellow pages and telephone first to establish who sells whoopee cushions. If there's one thing our children will never give us, it's credit for time served.

Foursons said...

So funny that you are in search of whoopie cushions. My kids received one in their Easter baskets and lo and behold they popped them. I was off to the store replacing them the one and ONLY time. They haven't popped them since.

Serena said...

My fiance and I, mostly I, have been reading your blog since last October. It took me until now to catch a post that indicated that you are in Sydney.

I am from the United States but am living in Sydney now with my fiance who has Asperger Syndrome. He is not diagnosed though anyone who knows him who knows of ASD knows that he has it.

We have been trying to find out the best way to get him diagnosed here but seem to find only resources for children. He is 43. We aren't even entirely sure if it would be beneficial or detrimental to get a diagnosis.

Any advice or assistance that you could give would be appreciated.

Thank you,


Gavin Bollard said...


While there are some doctors in Sydney who can and will diagnose aspergers in adults, the question you should really be asking yourself is whether your fiancée really needs a diagnosis.

In Australia, there aren't any benefits or acommodations specifically for adults with aspergers unless you really can't work at all and a diagnosis may cost thousands. The cost of the diagnosis is largely dependent upon the number of tests your psychiatrist wants to run and where those tests are held.

At 43, there's not much that a formal diagnosis can provide you with. Your fiancée will still be the same individual regardless of the label he has. If he's already being treated as an aspie, then the coping methods too, will be the same.

If you still want to proceed with a diagnosis, you'll need a referral from a GP, so the logical place to start is there. Your GP should be able to find someone close to you and may even be able to find medical assistance depending on your health fund. Unfortunately the Government assistance plan is only available for children.

5 Kids With Disabilities said...

Love your description of the cactus hour! What a PERFECT description.
I am afraid I take the easy way out. I don't generally take my children, ANY of them, shopping with me. That way I can shop in peace. The poor things are going to grow up and not know what to do in a store, but at least our lives are peaceful. (I know, I'm a bad, selfish mom.)
Lindsey Petersen

Hartley said...

Hi Gavin,

I too have spent days looking for some needed item that just couldn't be done without (usually a stuffed lion)! And trust me, with our kiddos, that is known as "GREAT parenting"!

And I love the graphic, and even more so, your kid's need to correct you on the location of the incident! LOL


Caitlin Wray said...

I am right there with you Gavin, driving from store to store to avoid the cataclysmic disappointment that our sensitive kids can often feel. To the NT world it most certainly looks like we are spoiling them, but I'm well on my way to letting go of caring about appearances. I know that for my son, he feels things much more intensely than NT kids. That's just the way it is.

Last Christmas Simon sat on Santa's knee in our local shopping mall, and whispered what he wanted for Christmas in his ear. Santa BURST out laughing a huge belly laugh that amused and perplexed the mile-long lineup of parents and kids. What had Simon said that made Santa double over in hysterics? I asked him as we departed and he said "Oh nothing... I just told him I want a rubber chicken that goes "buckock-buckock"".

Pretty much guaranteed that Santa never heard that one before. I scoured store after store and finally realized that I needed to stop looking in toy stores and start looking in PET stores. Lo and behold, Simon got a shiny new dog-toy rubber chicken from "Santa". You've never seen a happier 5 year old :)

Serena said...


Thank you. I appreciate your input.

While I adore Paul, my fiance, as he is, his lack of social skills and his not quite 'fitting into the world' has plagued him most of his life.

He has a degree in honours Physics but has almost always worked low level jobs in other fields because of his extremely poor interviewing skills and subsequent low self- esteem. Generally he has done work that other people have arranged for him.

I was hoping that there was assistance here that might help him with the red tape as there are in some places in the United States.

With my assistance -and I should note that I do have prior experience with ASD in relatives- we have been working on his interviewing skills and tendency to be literal and have made some progress.

It seems best that he and I simply continue to work on our own in developing his interviewing and social skills. We both have learned much from your blog as well and will continue to come here and read.

Thank you.


Evangeline said...

The "Cactus hour", I like that. We have similar issues balancing needs for freedom and structure in the summer, but I always come away wanting more holidays at the end anyway.
Thankfully now at age 10, I can now direct my sons to ebay and amazon for their own anti-meltdown shopping. We recently replaced a highly prized but damaged Star Wars action figure, with almost no upset. It was a miracle! But even 6 months ago would have had my husband scouring the city, so I totally get where you're coming from.

Gavin Bollard said...

One of the things that people often say is "that child is a spoilt brat" and if it's broken well, that's just too bad.

The thing is, that with trickery and diversion you might well be able to get away without too much crying - or you might be able to "tough your way through it" but you need to consider the invisible consequences.

I've already talked about this in this post. See the section on Loss of Innocence
to get feel for how these things can affect children in the long-term.

Fiona2107 said...

I LOVED the description of cactus hour!
AndI also loved the part about people thinking that sometimes these children are viewed as "spoiled brats". I too have encountered that many a time with my 2 ASD sons.
Your blog has been a great read. Thank you
FI :)

Miguel Palacio said...

An absolute worst case of holiday shopping mall meltdown.

Warning: a bit graphic at times. But a true story.

This is truly a terminal case:

RIP to the man and may the witnesses and loved one have found peace afterwards.