Wednesday, May 6, 2009

can I really do this?

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.


Lyndsey said...

Oy. I've been told by several of the girls teachers/therapists that I should go into some branch of therapy and you just hit the nail on the head as to why I won't do it.

Here is the thing, though. Right now, you are looking at it only from the perspective of the parent. You are sympathizing and empathizing with the people involved in the situation, which yes, will help you in the long run. Although I don't believe that I am capable of separating myself emotionally enough from the situation to get things done and be helpful, I do believe that some people are. People who would never have thought it possible until they got in there and got their hands dirty. Yes, you may be like me, but what if you're not? What if you're one of a few therapists around there who really is capable of understanding and having insight beyond the others because of your personal life and experience? I have complete, 100% faith in your ability to do this. I think you will rock at it. And yes, it's possible that you'll get in to it and feel completely helpless. But consider the alternative: this is something you are really interested in and you really want. You are miserable at your current job. What if you never left, but spent the next "x" number of years sitting in your classroom, hating your job, wondering what could have been if only you had given it a shot?

Yes, it may not work out. But then again, it just might. :)

Amy said...

I haven't really told anyone, but I've decided to go back to school for a nursing degree, and DH and I have this discussion all the time.

He actually asked me not to work with children b/c he didn't think I could look at it from a professional point of view, that I would always be the "parent". Or that I would let my emotions get in the way.

But honestly, I think it's the opposite. I think that since you've been there with your children and know what it is like that you'll be able to use that to your advantage once you've gone through the courses and have a professional view as well. The personal experience can only help you build your expertise (in my opinion). This is the same thing I'm hoping will help me with entering the world of nursing.

((((hugs)))) and best wishes... you can do this, I have faith in you!