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Grain of Wheat: Dealing with Verbally Abusive Autistic Meltdowns, by Rachel Fusselman

“If God gave me to you and dad, then I hate God! I hate you! I wish I was an orphan! You are the worst parents in the world.”

Welcome to our world. Our 11 year old son Luke has high functioning autism.

Have you ever just tried to go about your day but are being stalked hour by agonizing hour by a child prattling every single insult and curse known to man, making you feel like the world is caving in and you can’t go on anymore? If so, this article is for you.

Our methods for handling our son’s verbal meltdowns have evolved and continue to do so. In fact, within the past month, we’ve come to some very important and effective conclusions that I’d love to share. Hopefully, they can be of some help to you.

“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,
it remains just a grain of wheat;
but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”
-Jn 12:24-26

I’ll never forget the heart-wrenching feeling I got when I experienced our son's verbal abuse for the first time. He went after God first and the deep-South Louisiana in me thought “Good, Lord. My child is possessed!” I got the Holy Water out that night and blessed him. I cried myself to sleep. This was before we got his diagnosis. My husband and I “weren’t having any of that”, so we’d give him a good spank and send him to his room after future episodes. It was only after he kicked a hole in his wall big enough to walk through that we realized using methods we'd grown up with would not work. Then we got his official diagnosis and were even more confused. He slowly stopped abusing God, thank goodness, and instead made me, his mother, his target. Things were getting worse.

We tried Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy. They told us to take our time and talk through things with him. The problem is, I have three other children and didn’t have time to stop everything multiple times a day to talk with him for sometimes hour long stretches. We would converse with him at the end of the day, but by that time, the damage had been done to our morale and sometimes, to the house. He’d fall asleep with an apology, and we’d fall asleep after a couple hoping maybe it sunk in. Ninety five percent of the time, it didn’t. He’d wake up with the same problems and hyper fixations. I started dreading the morning.

I’d hear “He’s just spoiled!” or “He shouldn’t be allowed to talk to you that way!” or “Make your kid respect you!”. It was, and remains, so tempting to give into these clichéd speeches. But here’s the thing: nothing in your life as an autism parent is normal. Throw the dang parenting book out of the window. Your child is not spoiled. Your child has autism and feels trapped. Your child loves you, but it’s hard for him or her to express that love when his or her world is caving in. It really feels that way. It must be just as exhausting for him as it is for you.

Next, I started trying to ignore him. He would start to verbally abuse me and I would put in my noise cancelling headphones and zone out. I would take them on drives while he’d continue to prattle. Then my panic attacks started. While driving or in large crowds, I started having regular panic attacks brought on by the constant verbal abuse. This is where I tell you to never to be ashamed to take care of your mental health. I got on some anxiety medication for the first time in my life (another raised-southern taboo busted) and it helped me function. Your mental health is more important than everything else. If you can’t breathe then you can not care for others. I stayed on my anxiety medication for a year. We made some changes in our life and moved in that time. I’m happy to report that life, currently, does not require me to take medication. But it was a process, and I am not ashamed of it.

My husband has been a major helper as well. We are partners. On the days that I just can’t do it anymore, we worked out a system where he will either arrange for Luke to spend the day with grandparents or take him to work with him and let him make crafts. We are blessed to have this ability but not many people do. We tried homeschooling and have determined that public school is what works best for us. We live in one of the best districts in the country, on purpose, so that Luke can get all the many extra helpers he needs at his school. Things should get a little bit better once school starts and he is surrounded by his friends and teachers. Whether it’s a husband, parent, sister, friend, neighbors, or teacher- it is extremely important to ask for help and form a group around you. Never isolate yourself. Having a child with regular verbally abusive tantrums is atypical but it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Most people in our life understand that we are a special needs family, and while they may not fully understand what that means, they are always willing to help where they can. Special needs are a gift and so are the people God places in your life to help you. Never feel guilty or ashamed for accepting the gift of friendship in your time of need!

Over this summer, we have been experiencing an influx of verbal abuse for a variety of reasons: his hormones, weening him off his medications, and switching him to a program called Brain Balance (which is going very well). It wasn’t until this week that a friend pointed out: What about prayer?

*Face palm*

It’s so obvious. And you know, there is no guarantee. I’m not saying that, through prayer, your child will magically understand all the things and not verbally abuse you anymore. But how wonderful would it be if, in the moment, we stopped everything and clapped back at the verbal abuse with vocal prayer? I don’t mean a rosary, although the rosary is beautiful and brings peace. Sometimes, a rosary causes extra anxiety for me because there is too much going on. I mean, bring God into the moment with you! Last night, with each verbally abusive statement, I vocally prayed over my son.

“You are the worst parents ever.”

I put my hand softly on his shoulder and said, “My dear Jesus, please send down the Holy Spirit and help Luke to realize that we love him and are doing what’s best for him. Even if he cannot understand it.”

“I’m being abused.”

“Loving God, bring Luke peace in his heart to know that we do not abuse him. That he is very blessed. And that saying ‘no’ to him is not abuse but love.”

And so it went for about 10 minutes until he FELL ASLEEP while I prayed over him. He fell asleep, y’all. It was powerful. I had chills and could feel the Holy Spirit in my heart for the first time in years.

We are the grain of wheat. We are special needs parents. We know what it means to completely die to ourselves, our expectations, how we were raised to think- everything- is laid bare as we ask “How, Lord, do we do this?” Our children are our way to sainthood.

I realized last night that this is what God wants us to do. In the face of verbal abuse, vocally pray over your child and with your child FIRST. It may not be the final solution to the abuse. It may not even stop the abuse. But it is a sort of a consecration, as if to say, “My Jesus, I am suffering. They are suffering. We are at a loss. We come to you dead in all our assumptions and expectations. Please take us and make us fruitful.” I’m naturally angry in the face of conflict, so this is going to be a challenge for me. Prayer is the furthest thing from my mind when all I honestly want to do is flip off my kid and chug a beer. But hopefully, with practice, I can learn to pray over and with my child by default. Maybe this “consecration” will help. We will see.

I love you and I am praying for you. Know that you are not alone. Please don’t feel ashamed and isolated. Never be afraid to ask for help and prioritize your mental health. As with everything in our lives as a special needs parent, things are constantly changing and evolving. Move with where you feel called. One thing will never change, though: God is our mediator. He loves and understands our child more than we ever could. Run to Him, together with your child.

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