I recently took my two little fellows (3 and 4) on a two week trip through the Low Country of South Carolina. Because they did so well when we went to Cuba, I made the assumption that they would do well on this trip, too. I was wrong. So incredibly wrong.
It’s taken me a few weeks to figure out what exactly went wrong on this trip. Want to know what it was? It was me. I went wrong. I was high on the success of our Cuba trip and thought I could replicate it in South Carolina.
But I didn’t replicate it at all. Cuba was successful because it was an all inclusive resort full of structure and routine. South Carolina was all about adventure, experiences and “learning opportunities”. And as a result of my misguided attempt to provide the boys with experiences and “memories”, I completely overstimulated them.
You can probably guess what happened as the days wore on. The more we did, the more my guys deteriorated. Until I was dealing with 3 hour long tantrums from my youngest and manic and out of control behavior from the 4 year old. On top of the manic behavior and tantrums, the boys were hands on fighting and hurting each other, and Liam (4) had completely stopped processing information and wasn’t making much sense most of the time. He was kind of talking nonsense and just repeating random phrases he’d picked up.
Sadly, I wasn’t making the connection at all. It’s like all that training and learning about FASD just went out of my head while I pushed on. So the crazier they acted, the busier I tried to keep them. I kept asking the boys “Hey, do you want to go on a Pontoon boat up the river?”, “Let’s go to Charleston for the day!”, and “Want to go to Alligator Adventures?” and all sorts of other overstimulating activities. Do you think they were able to say “Ummm, no, Mom. We’re feeling completely overwhelmed with all these new experiences which is why we’re acting so insane. Stop doing stuff and slow down, kay?” Of course not. They jumped for joy every time I introduced a new idea. And then proceeded to run around like animals, become increasingly clumsy and injure themselves, and disrupt into hour long meltdowns.
Because that’s what they were….meltdowns. Not tantrums. Light bulb moment when I realized that. Except I didn’t realize that until we’d been home for a week and I had the space to think clearly. Because daycare is everything!
I think I had an inkling that maybe I had messed up by doing too much just as our trip wound to a close but I told myself that two days strapped in to car seats would settle them. Yah. About that. Not only did they NOT settle, they proceeded to act like wild animals during the 2 days of travel. During the last few hours home, they kicked at their DVD players until one broke, threw things at me, and screamed at the top of their lungs. Aiden, in particular, was on a roll, doing the opposite of whatever I asked him to do. Like when I’d ask him to be quiet and he would scream loudly in short bursts. For 20 minute stretches. Because he liked that it made me upset. Fun times. I’m working on learning to control my face.
Why am I oversharing this? Largely because I’m pretty sure I’m not the only parent to ever make this kind of mistake and I wanted to use this forum to connect with all of you. We all blow it sometimes. We overestimate ourselves, our abilities, and our kids. It happens to all parents at times. But when kids have FASD, they often lack the ability to self-regulate and self-soothe. And many times they lack the ability to show us what they need. Because they don’t know it themselves. So it super sucks, when the parent forgets too. But it happens and we keep moving forward.
In the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some tips for preventing and managing meltdowns, along with some ideas on working with overload and other sensory issues. Not that I have it all together. Clearly, not. But I like to think I may have learned something from this little adventure.
Truth? I kind of already knew it but I managed to forget everything I knew in my quest for yummy seafood and adventure. All you can eat crab legs apparently cause some kind of amnesia for me. Because, yes, I took them out to dinner every single night. They were actually quite reasonable in restaurants as long as we didn’t linger.
If you haven’t looked at the neuro-behavioral (or brain-based to keep it simple) model of working with children with FASD, you really need to. “Trying Differently, Not Harder” is a small book with big life changing information.
(And I need to remember to take that book with me on vacation!) I know I plug this book. Like a lot. But after 20 years in child welfare and years of working with children who likely had FASD and getting it wrong, this is the method of parenting that makes the most sense and gives us the most success. Most of the time. Because nothing works all the time.
While I’m on the subject, special shout out to my FASD NB (Neuro-behavior) Facebook group. It’s a Facebook support group that you can join after you read the book if you want some real live support in using the NB model. You know. In case you forget everything you know and overstimulate your kids touring the Low Country and all. That group pretty much got us through the last couple of days in South Carolina. Bless them.
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