Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Final Rinse

Washing a car is not like Seattle.

According to the school of PBS Kids' Curious George, there are six steps to properly washing your vehicle. Consolidating the process to a mere four (ie rinse, soap, rinse, dry) is not only un-freaking-acceptable, it might break a streetlight.

[A quick aside: after I typed that last sentence, my computer's spell check found my word usage un-freaking-acceptable. It made a few helpful suggestions for substitutions:

I find these options nu-freaking-acceptable. Moving on.]

I learned of the error of my ways while washing my car this evening. I invited Ryan to help me - he was quick to join because he loves playing with the garden hose, and there's an episode of Curious George that he likes to quote that involves George and his friend Allie building their own automated toy car wash (Episode #606 for those wishing to earn some extra credit).

Ryan responds well to the order imposed by numbered steps (step one: rinse the car; step two: scrub with soap...), but we have to be mindful that in his mind this organizing principle is absolute: if there are four steps, all steps must be executed in order, and no steps can be skipped, or things are Not Right. When something is Not Right, a meltdown is all but inevitable.

So we're washing the car, and Ryan is narrating the steps and supplying corresponding Curious George dialogue. Then the unspeakable happens: my order of operations varies from the one in his mind.

"Aaaagh! No!!! Do not DRY it! You can NOT DRY it!" Ryan screamed. I tried to talk him through some deep breathing, but this meltdown had escalated too quickly for typical methods. Ryan shrieked, cried, shook, blew chunks of snot all over himself, lost his ability to spray the hose when he wanted to. I prompted him to tell me what Step Four should be (obviously Drying was the wrong answer), but he just repeated "Don't DRY it!"

And that's when he threw himself into our small street lamp with such force that he broke off the electrical connection box.

Did I mention this whole time our next door neighbors were playing ball in their driveway? They did a great job of looking like they didn't notice anything amiss (Well, of COURSE that woman is wrestling her crazed son to the ground and sitting on him, that's just what normal folks DO.)

An autistic meltdown is not like a bratty child's tantrum. The emotion on display isn't disappointment or bitterness: it is anguish. It's an outpouring of fear, true terror that the world is falling apart and infinite frustration at your inability to effectively communicate that the world is about to end. It's a nightmare with your eyes wide open. It's a moment when things have gone so horribly wrong that you can't remember how to breathe.

When Ryan has a meltdown, my body goes into crisis management mode, but my heart just hurts for him. I stand by useless, watching the person I love most twisting in anguish. I claw blindly through my bag of tricks, searching for the one that will bring my baby some peace. I am relieved when Ryan gets distracted by a sticky spider web long enough to break the spell.

I never did find out the proper order of car-washing steps. 

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