Well this year’s holiday really has been a mixed bag. We have had successes and failures, we have learnt more about how to keep Mollie calm and yet regardless of all of our attempts to keep an even keel on our ship we have still experienced sticky patches and meltdowns which have become more prevalent as the holiday continued.
However all in all I would say that it has been a success, we have managed two whole weeks away, compared to only four days last year, with only three public meltdowns and it has been a very welcome break for me to simply just get away from it all. I think that Lee and Jake have found the daily and constant contact with Mollie, her demands, her need to control and her ever increasing autism traits very difficult and tiring to deal with. At home Jake is often out with friends and spends very little time with Mollie and Lee escapes to work, which he admits is easier than being at home, and also has various breaks when he is at football and so on.
However for me it has been far easier to deal with Mollie on holiday than it is at home. I have company, activities to do with her and I don’t feel as isolated and lonely as I do at home. Home life has become far more stressful for me due to Mollie now playing out and having her friends round all of the time. It is good for her and I am very grateful for this chance for her to socialise and have friends. However it plays havoc with my nervous system because the atmosphere is so highly charged and ready to blow at any given minute. This means that I never, ever relax or feel unstressed for a single minute of the day when I am at home.
Achievements to Celebrate
- Mollie has been able to access lots of activities on a daily basis and appears to be much more at ease in the social world than she did last year.
- She made a couple of friends who appeared to enjoy her company for the few days that they were here.
- She greatly enjoyed her day at the beach and really revelled at her first attempt at snorkelling.
- Mollie has been able to access the arts and crafts club and had done lots of artistic creations. She has attended on her own and been able to cope being with other adults without my protection. She has also enjoyed a degree of independence by being able to make her way to and from various places on the campsite by herself and free from adult supervision.
- The holiday has also been very educational, Mollie has been to trips to Dinosaur World and Bygones (which was an exhibition about the past and how we used to live). She has also been watching a lot of CBeebies in the mornings, which is not a channel that she would usually select, this has had a lot of educational programmes on it including lots of information about World War One, ‘Horrible Histories’ and wildlife shows. Mollie is also doing lots of drawing, loom band making and writing in the form of her personal diary. We have also being rock pooling which led to discussions about wildlife and the tides. Her increasing knowledge about the world, for her age, is wonderful to see.
- She has also being doing lots of arithmetic by managing her own money and insisting on adding up everyone’s crazy golf scores.
- She really enjoyed an activity on the campsite which involved holding lots of creepy crawlies, snakes and a few cute and fluffy animals.
The Best Type of Holiday Venue for Mollie
Mollie copes far better in a caravan or bungalow than a hotel room. She needs to feel ‘home from home’ in an environment where she has plenty of room to relax and chill out. She has her home comforts in the form of TV, internet access (which has been intermittent), loom bands, colouring pens and importantly for all of us ‘space’. The space to have time out, from each other, facilitated by separate rooms instead of all being stuck in one hotel room has been vital.
Following an easy couple of first days, perhaps due to the novelty factor and the reduction of anticipation by finally arriving on holiday, the veneer of normality began to slip and we went back to dealing with a child with PDA rather than one who was concealing it remarkably well.
Following difficult days, where every PDA strategy in the book had been needed to be applied and every ounce of mental flexibility and patience had been exhausted to simply maintain the status quo we would try to reflect and identify triggers that could have caused this increase to her internal anxiety thermometer. The same can be said for any meltdowns, these are not as ferocious or as long winded as they used to be and usually take the form of being sworn and shouted at in public while also dodging a flying missile. Not as bad as they used to be but not highly desirable and still rather embarrassing, regardless of how much of a thick skin I try to develop, when you are in a very public place.
We noticed that Mollie was definitely more difficult to deal with when we were not on the caravan site. The site had become home from home and leaving it to go anywhere instantly put her on high alert. She found the unpredictability of it all very difficult to deal with. How long would we be in the car for, what if there were too many people, what if she didn’t like where we were going to and so on. We quickly learned that if we were out that every detail needed to be planned to the last minute. The child that once thrived on novelty now needed very strict routines and to know exactly what would be coming next at all times. Therefore each and every day would be planned by Mollie or we would simply follow her lead or make her a list of possible options that she could choose from.
Following meltdowns we would try to see what triggers had built up during the day to produce the final finale of the meltdown. Sometimes we simply have to guess and to try to work it out for ourselves but sometimes Mollie can help us in this area. This is very dependent on her mood at the time and is not something that I attempt to discuss with her during or immediately after a meltdown. I tend to pick my time carefully and even then it can be hit and miss as to whether she opens up or not.
A day at the beach ended up in a meltdown during the evening, in the bar, due to a build-up of small but anxiety provoking triggers. The following day once calm had been restored I suggested that we wrote our thoughts and feelings down in a thoughts diary, again this method will be hit and miss but it is a strategy worth keeping in my ever growing bag of PDA tricks and strategies.
Triggers for the Meltdown Following Our Day at the Beach
- Leaving Blueberry behind because we were afraid of losing her on the beach greatly upset her because she feels much more secure when Blueberry is with her. Blueberry had ceased to be an active part of Mollie’s life but since her reintroduction into the social world Blueberry has mysteriously reappeared following, according to Mollie, a stay at a boarding school. Having Blueberry injected back into our lives can be very difficult because she becomes Mollie’s PDA alter ego for when Moll wants to cause mischief but without putting herself directly in the firing line. It is also very tiresome for Lee ‘who is Blueberrys voice’ to have to keep role playing being Blueberry Bear. This role play is required throughout the day and night.
- As soon as we arrived at the beach she was eager to play and even waiting while sun cream was applied, deckchairs were hired and Lee sorting the parking spot out appeared to greatly aggravate her. Like many of our children she is unable to play by herself and needs that constant one on one interaction, meaning that this short amount of waiting filled her with pent up anxiety and boredom.
- She wanted to play in the sea for longer than any of us could stand the cold and even though we did it in shifts it still wasn’t long enough. She simply could not cope when we had to call time on remaining in the sea with her.
- As the day drew to a close this also stressed her out because she didn’t want the day to end, transitions are difficult for Mollie and this is another reason why leaving the site causes issues. It is the transition of going from one place to another.
- At the bar she had now reached the limit and her tolerance level was full. When she needed a drink to wash her food down her dad, according to Mollie, took too long at the bar. The result was frustration and anxiety which she took out by annoying and stressing Jake out. One of my few non- negotiable boundaries is that I do step in when Jake is becoming affected by her behaviours towards him. Of course when I asked her to stop annoying her brother we had the meltdown. My handling of the situation could have been better but my tolerance and patience tank was also by 10.00pm at night running on empty due to the huge amount of mental gymnastics that had been actively employed throughout the day in order to avoid the very thing that was now ultimately happening.
The Other Side of the Coin (Trying to Teach Mollie How Her Actions Affect Others)
- I am very keen to try to teach Mollie to have the ability to try to see situations from the other person’s perspective. So I also wrote my thoughts in the thoughts diary so that she could understand and view the day from my perspective.
- I wrote down that while I understood how things had built up for her and that we would endeavour to reduce these triggers that the day had also being difficult for me and her dad too. We are often unaware of her worries because she doesn’t discuss them with us so that we can deal with them at the time and that dealing with the subsequent behaviour is exhausting and stressful for us.
- While I understand the need for her to have constant attention it would be lovely for her dad and I to be allowed occasional periods of being allowed to have moments of relaxation together instead of having to be relentlessly on the go. Due to Jake being the same as a small child we have now being relentlessly on the go during holidays for fifteen years. It would be nice if Mollie could occasionally accommodate our needs also instead of her needs always being paramount.
- Being sworn at and shouted at in public when we do everything that we can to meet each and every need and to provide her with as much support and understanding as possible is really upsetting for us, infact it physically hurts in the same way that a punch does, and it is not always easy to recover and move on from.
Conclusions and Strategies Devised by Mollie and I
- Mollie will try, when her anxieties permit, to give Lee and I a small modicum of relaxation.
- She will try to tell us her worries so that we can help her deal with them as and when they occur rather than building up inside.
- If she feels a meltdown approaching and still has some ability to control her actions she will ask to come back to the caravan.
Since the first meltdown and the success of our negotiation Mollie still had two more meltdowns and so the results are hardly instantaneous. As the holiday continued Mollie’s behaviour became more and more controlling and difficult to manage. I think that she was finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the family dynamics of needing to fit into a four person unit. At home she usually experiences one on one attention within the family unit which is easier for her to cope with. Towards the end of the holiday it was becoming increasingly difficult for us to do or to achieve anything as a family unit due to Mollie’s attempts to fully control everybody, everything and her repeated attempts to kibosh activities that we were trying to do. However each time we go through the same routine of some type of discussion, at some point, about what has happened and measures that we can introduce for the future. Discussion may I add is not straight forward talking as one would usually expect but is often done in a very round-about way and by various means and methods. I suppose the positive isn’t whether or not we reduce meltdowns or triggers but is the fact that we now do have some sort of line of communication open all be it a very alternative one.
As a child I have bended completely to Mollie and given her complete freedom in order to reduce the meltdowns, restore self-esteem and to provide us with calmer waters within which to sail. However as she goes through adolescence and enters adult hood it is so important that I at least try to help her to accommodate the needs of others, to try to see events from the other person’s perspective, to take responsibility for her own actions and how these actions can affect others and to develop some level of empathy. She will need these skills if her progress is to continue into adulthood and although I may fail, or she may simply not be able to achieve these things, I at least need to know that I have tried.
I think that we are seeing some small degree of success in this area but like everything with PDA it is painfully slow. There are now times when her apologies and the sorrow expressed when she has upset someone do appear genuine, rather than simply going through motions of an apology which she doesn’t actually mean. These rare glimpses of true recognition and sorrow at how she has made someone else feel are encouraging signs that I can draw comfort from.