Ryan knows he is allergic to wheat. Before eating a new food, he will almost always ask "Is there wheat in it?" two or three times first.
So when we were at his grandparents' house two Saturdays ago, I didn't think to warn him about the platter of cheese and crackers that had been left out on the coffee table.
You see where this is going, right?
He only ate one cracker - my mother-in-law caught him as he was about to eat a second one. When I told him he had eaten wheat, he made a valiant attempt to spit, though of course you can't spit out what you've already swallowed.
I was pissed - we had just gone through two weeks of regression after some accidental wheat exposure from his Halloween candy - but I decided to use this incident as an opportunity to make Ryan aware of the effects wheat has on his body. It had taken us several days to realize that the behavior he had shown earlier in November was wheat-related, but this time, we had warning.
The next morning, Ryan woke up whining, irritable, crying that he "can not find" something or other. There were vocal tics we haven't heard in six months or more - an assortment of clicks and whoops that drive me mad and had at one point led me to start researching Tourette Syndrome.
Instead of reprimanding the behavior and reminding him to use calming strategies, as I would normally do, I held him close and said "You're feeling weird because of that wheat cracker you ate. That's why you're freaking out." Throughout the day, whenever he whooped or threw himself on the floor or forgot the order of operations for putting on shoes and socks, I made a conscious effort to be patient and to remind him (and myself) that there was a logical, organic reason for his problems, that that eventually they would pass. He was distressed and confused and felt out of control. At one point he cried to Stu, "I can't think!" We felt terrible for him, but I must confess I was elated that he was able to express himself so well.
Coincidentally, Monday night Ryan spiked a fever that would keep him home from school Tuesday and Wednesday. I knew the fever was the result of a virus, but Ryan associated it with his wheat allergy. As he lay on the couch, miserable with a 102.5 fever, he wailed like a frat boy with his first hangover. "I will never eat wheat again!" he declared to the heavens. He didn't believe me when I told him the fever was unrelated to the cracker, but I didn't push that point too far. My goal had been for him to associate wheat with misery; the universe was working in my favor.
It has now been just over a week since the cracker incident, and he's almost back to normal. Well, normal for him. Every day he's a little more present, a little more agreeable. It's so easy for me to lose my patience during these regressive periods, but it's helpful to remind myself that it's not Ryan's choice to act as he does. He doesn't want to feel out of control, he doesn't want to feel like he can't think. It's easier for me to be patient when I'm aware he's having an allergic reaction. I wouldn't get angry at him if he were in anaphylactic shock - I would do whatever I could to help him breathe - so instead of getting mad when he exhibits signs of brain fog, I need to find ways to be supportive.