7 Steps to Defuse a Terrible, No-Good Autism Day

Today was a terrible, no-good autism day.

I had my emotional breakdown this morning so I’m not going to relive it and write about it.  Plus, I’ve done that before.

But, I did leave work early to be home with my boy, as he did not seem to be in a place to be able to go to his after-school care.

And on the drive from work to pick him up from school, I devised a plan in my head. Just prior to leaving work, I had a last session with a client because her family is moving.  The mother of the client told me how much growth her daughter had had with me and if they were to ever come back to our clinic, she would hold out until I had an opening because I meant that much to them and had helped them that much.

And unknowingly, she gave me strength to go home and help my own child.  Because I can.  I’m so blessed to have the education and training I do.

My plan to defuse the terrible, no-good autism day was:

  1. Food & Water
  2. Essential Oils
  3. Vestibular Input
  4. Bath Time
  5. Vestibular Input
  6. Proprioceptive Input
  7. Massage

Why each of these things?

  • Food & Water– obviously we all need food.  We all need healthy, wholesome food.  And we need it regularly.  So many times I’ve seen kids crash and then later realize that they didn’t have their after-school snack before coming to work with me.
  • Essential Oils– did you know the sense of smell is the only sense that goes directly to the limbic system and that the limbic system controls our emotions.  It’s also the home of the fight or flight response.  We are big essential oil users in this household.  I immediately started diffusing “Grounding”- a unique blend meant to help with emotional stability.  Brian actually independently went over to the diffuser after eating and stood next to it for a few minutes.
  • Vestibular Input– this is a sense that most people don’t know about.  The vestibular system helps with our sense of balance and spatial orientation.  We take in vestibular input by changing the position of our head- it’s all stored in our inner ear.  Without getting frequent vestibular-movement breaks, most children on the spectrum can become very dysregulated.  Brian loves swinging so that’s what we did today.  In the middle of swinging next to each other, he jumped off his swing, ran to me and wrapped his arms around my neck to give me a hug.  After the day we had had, that hug meant the world to me.
  • Bath time– I’m not going to say anything really super scientific about this one.  It’s just a proven fact that Brian is calmed by water.  It soothes him like no other.  He loves the tactile, visual, and auditory quality of it. I again utilized essential oils in his tub and gave him some homemade bath fizzies that had Lavender & Frankincense (both have known calming qualities) in them.  While the tub was filling, he looked up at me and said, “Thank you”.  It was a surreal moment.  It was quickly followed by “Go Away”, as he likes his privacy in the tub, but the “Thank You” was enough to let me know we were on the right path.swinging
  • Vestibular Input– wait, I already said that.  Yes, Brian is that much of a responder to linear swinging (spinning on a swing can be alerting for him, like most kids).  This time we went to his bedroom hammock swing versus the outdoor swings.  The hammock swing encloses him which gives him a bit of proprioceptive input and feels very safe to him. a On top of being enclosed in the hammock, he chose to wrap himself up in his favorite soft blanket (tactile!) before climbing in.  I pushed him in a slow, linear fashion for 30 minutes.
  • Proprioceptive Input– another “secret” sense.  Proprioception is the body’s ability to sense movement within our joints- this ability helps us know where our body is in space and the force we use within our movements.  In general, vestibular input generally is more alerting and proprioception input is more calming.  However, kids on the spectrum love to leave us guessing.  I generally, in my therapy sessions with clients, always try to follow vestibular input with proprioceptive input.  Also, proprioceptive input can offset any “dizzies” that a child may get from doing vestibular work.  Brian has an indoor trampoline in his room so I had him jump on that for a few minutes.
  • Massage– I generally call this “Body Work” instead of massage as I’m not a massage therapist and the exercises I do on Brian and on my clients have a therapeutic basis to them.  I have derived hands-on techniques from courses in Brain Gym, Rhythmic Movements Training, and the Masgutova Method.  For Brian, he generally needs deep compression squeezes on his limbs, a foot wake-up, and spinal exercises.  We practice our deep breathing throughout it all and you can see him “melt” into the floor and feel him calm.

All in all, my therapeutic session with my own son was about two hours long.  In the real world, we don’t always have that much time.  And honestly after bath time, I think he was in a place where he would have been okay for the rest of the night.  But, with taking time off from work I really wanted to give it my all to ensure a wonderful night and hopefully get a toe in for a great morning tomorrow.

Heather Nelson

About Heather Nelson

Heather resides in Rockland where she is busy juggling life as a newlywed, a mom to two boys (one of which who has autism), a part time job in direct sales, and a full-time job as a pediatric occupational therapy assistant. She has a love for live music, karaoke, and cheering on the underdogs.