On Friday past, I finally closed a long chapter of personal stuff from this year. Nathan, our eldest son (who’s nine now) at the start of the year had some sort of panic related episode. “Attack” feels like the wrong word, though maybe I’m wrong.
At the start of the year, within a week of returning to school, Nathan became so scared of school (and everything else, in fact) that he would cry when he left us, and sit sobbing to himself all the way through school. We had to take him home and I had to watch him like a hawk. If you’ve read the blog you’ll have seen me talk about this through the year.
Now, it’s become apparent that what seemed to set him off (and I should point out, he’s ASD – with what would be called Asperger’s, very bright and capable) was stumbling across a youtube video about lead poisoning (of all things) some sort of work being done at the school (redoing the ceilings and probably had lots of workmen and danger signs about) and the death of one of the teachers sisters. Mixed in a large pot, these all combined to shift Nathan from a happy (though always a little over worried) boy into … well, if he was an adult, I’d say he was clinically depressed. Crying, unable to do anything, his posture and body language changed, it was a horrible horrible thing, I’d wish on no one.
(one of the ways this manifested was a sort of fastidiously careful eating mannerism, up until then Nathan was a pretty messy eater – not uncommon in ASD kids, he would be fully aware of the food on his face – post-event, he would stand like C3PO (I’m serious, armed bowed at a weird angle desperate not to touch himself or anything) and any food that went in his mouth went in whole or not at all – there’d be nothing to be seen on his face after eating any food).
The first few weeks of this were easily the most difficult weeks of our life.
At some point I hit on a strategy for, not so much fixing the problem, as trying to draw him away from what seemed like a dark precipice.
When he showed signs of being worried, I’d get him to say the word he was worried about (this was would often be difficult to coach out of him, as the word itself, to his mind, seemed imbued with whatever it was he was afraid of) then I’d get him spell it out, letter for letter, and, remembering he had a past obsession with pokemon, I’d get him to name a pokemon for each letter he’d spell. So, Cancer became “C-A-N-C-E-R C is for Chimchar, A is for Abra, N is for Nidoking, C is for …” etc, though I’d not let him get away with naming exactly the same pokemon for a double letter.
This would, if I caught him in time, stop him from falling into that dark place that he seemed to have got stuck in.
We went through three distinct phases:
1 – Crying all the time, constantly depressed/sad at this early stage the distraction was just about stopping him from crying and it would be a battle but it would work, at least for a short time.
2 – sad and on the precipice of crying – here it would be about distracting him before his own thoughts took him somewhere darker – something you could always detect by watching his body language and seeing what he was seeing and trying to work out whether it had any triggers in it, like cancer or death
3 – a kind of low rumbling sadness, that was harder to combat because here, rather than distracting him, we wanted him to smile and laugh and forget himself altogether.
This whole thing went on months and months, and, while I’m tempted to say we’re out of the woods, I’m not sure if we ever will be. Maybe this is a life time problem and it’s our job to stop him from falling.
We had very little support, beyond figuring this stuff out ourselves. The health service (and the NHS) while it’s very well set up to deal with physical problems (as we well know from the many many times we’d ended up taking Thomas into A&E for his breathing problems-happily now just a memory) it’s not well suited to deal with mental issues at all.
There’s an autism “Intervention” service – which, laughably, involved a team meeting to discuss which department would deal with Nathan’s issues, then a further meeting, a fortnight later, discussing who would deal with Nathan directly (the person assigned to us was very nice, but as I kept jumping up and down about at the time, Nathan needed IMMEDIATE help rather than punted down the line until someone could be assigned to him).
In essence there was no “intervention” going on.
I felt Nathan’s incident, if dealt with immediately, could – maybe- be helped quickly and prevent long term damage to his mental health.
I wish I could say I found the help we needed but we really really didn’t.
Anyway, we had a casefile opened.
Friday I told them to close it.
Nathan is better than he was ( in some respects, better even than he was before this thing happened) but we’ll always have to watch him.
My wife lost her brother to depression, and depression has touched my family too, and, I think, those factors where what drove us to deal with Nathan they way we did. I hope we did the right thing.
It’s certainly been wonderful to see Nathan come back to life, and become obsessed all over again with Minecraft.
Anyway, that’s what we’ve been doing this year so far. Hope yours has been better.