During the last few weeks of my pregnancy with Alex, he had hiccups every day about the same time mid-morning and around ten o’clock at night. The first few times I experienced these subtle yet rhythmic movements, they startled me. Once I realized the source of the little ripples in my abdomen was simply Alex’s diaphragm in spasms, these twice-daily occurrences were something I learned to anticipate, and I would find myself waiting for the next session to happen. After Alex was born, he continued his hiccups schedule of mid-morning and late evening, and again I found myself watching and waiting for the next time the hiccups would occur. Over time, the daily hiccups disappeared, no longer part of a regular pattern. When Alex was older, we would give him a spoonful of sugar to make his hiccups disappear. As with anything out of the ordinary, he likes to know that there is a solution to the problem, and with hiccups, he knew to come ask for some sugar. Rarely, he would need a second dose of sugar to remedy his hiccups, but they always went away fairly quickly.
During Alex’s difficult adolescent years, he had meltdowns nearly every day and sometimes more than once a day. Like the hiccups he had shortly before and after his birth, we learned to anticipate these uprisings and waited for them to erupt. Over time, with maturation and some tweaking of his nutritional supplements, Alex’s meltdowns gradually became less prevalent, much to our relief. Things that once set him off, such as people coughing or the cable television going out, no longer would send him into tailspin mode. Even when he did become agitated, we could usually talk him down from his anxious state and prevent the anger and upset from turning into agitation and aggression. (As Ed and I always rate a “good” meltdown: “Nothing got broken, nobody got hurt.”) After going for several months without any real meltdowns, we had hoped that maybe Alex had finally and completely outgrown this stage. Recently, Ed and I compared the scars on our hands, remnants of where angry Alex clawed us with his own hands, and we noted that the marks remind us how thankful we are to have overcome those difficult days. My parents have again offered to stay with Alex as they did when he was little so that Ed and I could go out to dinner alone, something we haven’t done in many years because at least one of us needed to be with Alex in case he became agitated. With each month that passed without any incidents, we were enjoying a life of relative normalcy, and we felt blessed for this respite from the most difficult aspect of Alex’s autism.
Like those hiccups, however, the anxiety arises when we often least expect it. Last week, after months without any meltdowns, Alex became upset and threw a huge fit, complete with physical aggression. Ranting for no apparent reason about how he never wanted to use his graphing calculator again, he began hitting and clawing us to make his point, despite our reassurances and a dose of the sedative Ativan. He seemed to calm down a little, but then he began yelling and striking again, this time with a crazed look in his eyes and spitting at us to make his point, as well. After two more doses of Ativan, he finally settled down and returned to his gentle self, sleepy from the sedative and the meltdown. After he fell asleep, Ed and I did our traditional post-meltdown de-briefing, trying to figure out what had set off the fit and if we could have done anything better in handling it. Convinced that we had dealt with him as well as could be expected, we began thinking about what was different that might have agitated him. That evening, we had gone to a new restaurant, and we began analyzing what Alex had eaten that might have been a trigger for his behavior. We concluded that the potatoes he’d eaten likely had wheat flour in the sauce, and since Alex has been on a gluten-free diet for more than ten years, his system doesn’t likely tolerate glutens well. Although we were somewhat shaken by the experience, we were relieved that he did settle down, we had worked together to overcome the behavior, and we probably had identified the source of the problem through our detective work. Since we suspect a dietary infraction was the culprit, our commitment to keeping his diet gluten-free remains strong. Alex’s meltdown last week also made us appreciate how much his behavior has improved over the past several months because this was a rare event instead of a daily one. Nonetheless, while we enjoy the good behavior he exhibits the majority of the time, we stand on guard, waiting for those possible hiccups in life that challenge us and keep us praying for a total healing of Alex.
“From six calamities He will rescue you; in seven no harm will befall you." Job 5:19