Coincidence or Breakthrough
Have you ever noticed all the coincidences that happen around you every day? Why do they happen? Do you ever wonder if they mean anything? And I'm not just talking about the little ones, like when you happen to buy the same pair of shoes as your best friend on the same day. I'm also talking about the big ones. The ones that could possibly be life altering. Like if you run your motorcycle off the edge of a mountain and there are, coincidentally, two off duty paramedics right behind you and an ambulance on the same road. That's a big coincidence, wouldn't you say? Maybe even divine intervention.
Well, when there is an autistic little guy in the house that doesn't talk yet, we're learning that maybe, some coincidences need to be looked at a little more closely because the ones that may look small may be much bigger than we think. Sometimes, they may not be coincidences at all.
Sometimes, in Noah's case, they could even be a breakthrough.
The constant questioning of myself about each one of these coincidence/breakthrough moments can sometimes make me feel like I'm on some weird game show called "Coincidence or Breakthrough?" And there's this loud-mouthed game show host with big teeth and a wide, fake smile that's always asking me what every moment in time may mean. In his big booming voice, he asks me all day long; "So G-Maw, what do you think? Was that just a coincidence....or a breakthrough?" I feel like if I get the answer wrong, I lose.
Let me give you just one example.
A few nights ago, Noah was sitting in his favorite spot - on G-Paw's lap - when Sara realized it was time for bed. When she picked him up, Noah, who obviously had other plans, let out one of those high-pitched screams - the kind that sounds like nails on a chalkboard. He squeezed his little legs around her waist and clutched his arms around her neck as tightly as he could and bit down, hard, on her shoulder! He bit so hard, he left bite marks that were visible the next day. Sara quickly pulled him off of her and popped his little diapered bottom and fussed at him, then quickly hugged him and stroked his head. He calmed down extremely fast and the tantrum was over in the blink of an eye. It had ended just as quickly as it began. It shocked us all. We couldn't believe he had gotten so upset so quickly. It worried us, but we thought maybe he was just tired and we had, after all, taken him from his most favorite place. And besides, what two year old doesn't occasionally throw their little tantrums, right? I know the biting part sounds scary, and it is, but for Noah, it wasn't that unusual. I mean, he's never bitten anybody before, but he's what his therapists call an "oral fixator". He just likes to bite things. Usually, he likes his blanket best, but sometimes our shirt will work if we happen to be holding him when he gets excited about something. He's never really bitten us before. Not on purpose. He will sometimes accidentally catch our skin, but he quickly lets go when he feels it in his teeth. He is often walking around the house with a blanket in his mouth, giggling. So, it wasn't really the biting that scared us, although, we did worry that it could be a problem later. But we also worried about the quickness and intensity of it all. He went to bed peacefully after that with no fussing or crying, leaving Sara and G-Paw and me in a state of confusion and a little bit concerned. Hoping that this biting thing wasn't going to be a problem and the intensity was just a one time thing.
The next day, I was feeding him his lunch in his high chair while Sara was at school. When he was done, I went to wipe his face with a rag. This is a task that is usually not met with much difficulty but, we've learned that a soft, warm rag on the face is much more acceptable than a cold paper towel or wipe, (duh, right?) so, with my warm rag at the ready, I softly started to wipe his mouth. For some unknown reason, this daily ritual threw him into a tirade. The little angel boy that would usually sit quietly and patiently while we wiped his face had transformed, in a split second, into a screaming banshee. He grabbed my forearm with both his hands and squeezed his little fingers as tightly as he could, digging his untrimmed fingernails into my arm and then he pulled my wrist into his mouth and bit down, hard. But I could tell he was holding back. I could see he didn't want to hurt me, but he just didn't know what else to do. His whole body was shaking, like a balloon that had been blown up just a little too much and the air was being let out all at once, in one, quick, burst of energy. I was stunned. In pain, I pulled my arm back, gave him a quick little pop on the leg and fussed at him and told him how he had hurt G-Maw. Again, just like the last time, it was over just as quickly as it began. The whole incident lasted 3 or 4 seconds. I took him out of the high chair, gave him a hug and put him down. He took off as if nothing had happened - giggling and running to his playroom. I looked down and saw the bite marks on my wrist. I could see each little tooth indented into my skin. I wondered what started it and why it ended so quickly. And, again with the intensity. What happened?
Now, here comes the possible breakthrough/coincidence part:
Just a few minutes later, Noah came sauntering in with a crooked little grin and handed me G-Paw's phone. All his favorite songs and games are on that phone, and he knows it. He brought it to me, and I turned it on. (The password is the only thing he needs help with). He pulled me down to the ground and sat in my lap. He went to the folder with his songs and games and tapped it. It's a folder filled with about a dozen icons that look exactly the same. They are all YouTube icons, but he knows which ones are his favorites. He clicked on one that I know he likes but, instead of pressing the play button when it came on, he placed his little thumb on the screen and scrolled down. I knew what he was doing. He was searching the pictures that went with the next videos in line for play. He knows where all those are too. I could tell he was looking for a specific one. He kept going up and down, looking. He finally landed on an Elmo song and tapped it. He settled back in my lap and began to watch it with me. When the video started playing, I couldn't believe it.
The video started off with Elmo being very angry, and if anyone knows Elmo, then you know he's never angry. But in this one, his hair was sticking up all over the place, his ordinarily wide, friendly smile (with no teeth) was now filled with large, sharp fangs. He grew big, scary horns on the top of his head. His eyebrows (where there usually are none) were furrowed and long and wild. His eyes were even different - bigger and fierce looking. Elmo even started growling. The celebrity singers began to sing a song to Elmo to teach him how to "breathe" - To help him calm himself.
"Sometimes the monster that's inside you is a monster that is mad. It's the monster who is angry. It's the monster who feels bad. When your monster wants to throw things and your monster wants to shout, there's a way to calm your monster and to chill your inner monster out. You gotta breathe." Then he goes on to teach him how to "belly breathe", taking long, deep breaths until the monster goes away. Soon, Elmo learns how to breathe and he returns to his normal, jolly, happy self with the kind eyes and funny little laugh.
After watching the video, Noah just got up and walked away. That was it. He just left the phone right there on my lap, sitting on the kitchen floor. He didn't go to the next video or press the home button to find another song, like he usually does. He just left it, unceremoniously, right there for me to see. And, perhaps, to watch again? He never looked at me or in any kind of way articulated that this was what he was feeling. He just sat in my lap, searched for it, watched it with me, and then walked away. I was stunned. I looked down at my wrist where the signs of his quick flash of anger were just beginning to fade away. I watched the video again and thought "Hm...I wonder". (At this point, I can hear the game show music very faintly creeping into my mind. Like the jeopardy song. I know the question will be coming soon. This game show host is relentless.)
I mean, it could just happen to be the video he landed on. But I really believe it wasn't an accident. You see, I've watched this little boy go over dozens of icons that look exactly alike to find the one video he wants. I've watched him scroll through the other videos that are next in line and accidentally press the wrong one and then go back because he knew it was not the one he wanted. So, what am I supposed to think when that particular Elmo song is the one he searches for at that particular time?
Coincidence? (Asks the loud-mouthed game show host)
Has he bitten us since then?
Has he come close?
Yes. But he stops himself every time.
Has he had more meltdowns? Of course. He's two. That's going to happen.
But it hasn't been with the same intensity.
And he hasn't bitten us again.
He holds himself back every time.
Doesn't that mean something? I think it does.
I think maybe he showed me that Elmo video because he's trying to tell us that he is trying. He's trying to control his monster. His anger. His frustrations. Maybe Elmo is helping him do that. Maybe, while he was in the middle of biting his mommy and me, an image of Elmo flashed in his mind and he thought of that catchy little tune that goes with it.....
"Breathe......You gotta breathe right through it."
Or maybe he showed me that video because he was telling me to be patient.
He was telling me to breathe.
Either way, he was telling me something, Right?
We just have to pay attention.
Watch for the coincidences.
They might be the breakthrough we've been waiting for.
I guess we won't ever know for sure.
But I'll tell you what I think:
I think that he does understand.
He knows what's going on in the world around him and he wants, more and more, to become a part of it.
He wants us to help him do that.
He wants us to understand him.
I think he's reaching out.
I think he’s breaking through that shell that has been built around him.
(Yes, Mr. Game Show host: my final answer is.......
Elmo's monster song: