I had a real "shake me up" moment this afternoon, while Mr. L and I were at the therapy clinic where he goes weekly for a social skills/speech therapy group session. The mom of the other group member (M) needed to talk privately to the therapist, so Mr. L and I were sitting in the floor in the lobby playing a board game with M. Things were going well, I was feeling pretty good about my ability to facilitate their interaction and keep things running smoothly......then, another therapist walked in from outside along with her patient, a boy I'd not seen before.
Trust me when I say that this boy, approximately age 11 I'd guess, has autism. Pretty severely, based on what I saw. And something, I don't know what, was really upsetting and frustrating him. He was very reluctant to even come inside, and once he got in the door it just escalated. He didn't want to go into any therapy room, even the "gym" where they have the swings, balls, etc for sensory work. And he was making loud noises, VERY loud, and eventually screaming and it just sounded so painful and sad.
Well, the two boys in our group, Mr. L among them, were not happy about the noise the other boy was making. They were alternately covering their ears, making faces, or saying things like "why is he being so loud?", "what's going on with him?", "he needs to stop that", etc. I tried as much as I could to stop those kind of comments, and to tell them that everything was ok but that the boy just seemed to feel frustrated. Truthfully though, his screaming was pretty darn loud, ear-piercingly loud at times. And the therapist was trying hard, talking to him in a calming voice, reassuring him that they could go do things he liked (i.e. swing etc) but nothing was working.
The boy was about the same size as the therapist, meaning it's not like she could physically assist him into that room or do much to help when he throws himself onto the floor, which he did. Then he started hitting himself in the head, and she kept telling him "no, we don't do that, please stop" etc. I have no way to know any details about the boy's diagnosis or situation, but I think I know an ASD meltdown when I see one, and I was witnessing one today.
As the episode progressed, I started to think.....oh my goodness, what if that therapist is me in a couple of years? Listening to that child's screams was just heart-breaking to me. I felt my heart rate go up, and I felt at least some degree of the worry, frustration, anguish, fear and the myriad of other emotions that I bet that child's therapists and family members feel often. Because I am an ASD mom too, and have suffered through public meltdowns when nothing you do works and you feel so helpless and hopeless.
How will I manage this when I'm supposed to deal with it in a professional context? When it's someone else's child, and I don't know the little tricks and strategies that sometimes work to avert meltdowns for him or her. If just being a "fly on the wall" as I was today got my pulse racing and my heart aching, how will I function and keep it together as a therapist? I really was almost in tears today, watching and listening to that young man and that therapist. And so I started wondering whether I've made a terrible mistake in deciding to go down this career path......have I set myself up for failure, will it be too hard to maintain the professional demeanor and "detachment" because I won't just be a therapist but an ASD mom as well? Nothing I can do or would ever do will change that fact, nothing can take away what I've learned and felt in the past 7 years of parenting Mr. L. But will that very experience be my downfall and prevent me from success in Music Therapy? I thought it was going to be my big asset, and now I'm wondering if it's a liability instead.