Leo spent Monday and Tuesday of this week in a state of agitation, specifically targeting Mali. While in hindsight there were several possible triggers (post-birthday party sensory processing, Daylight saving time, high dose red food coloring from his cake, Keith Olberman's censuring) in the moment his aggression came out of nowhere -- we had just run several errands with a compliant and content boy when he started trying to attack his little sister in the middle of the grocery store.
He didn't get Mali, but she (understandably) freaked right into hysteria. And wanted to be picked up and comforted. Which I couldn't do, because I needed all my hands and strength to keep her brother from reaching her. And then my heart shattered into a million pieces, which made getting those two children all the way across the store to the exit challenging -- I'm not sure how it happened, but we did get back to the car, with rearranged seating and several minutes of me sitting in the driver's seat, paralyzed and gripping the steering wheel. I don't know how you handle shell shock, but for me it means driving at about 10 MPH -- which also happens to be a sign of drunk driving so I'm lucky we didn't get pulled over.
On Tuesday I tried an outing with them again, for Leo's actual birthday -- to his favorite cafe for a croissant. I was hopeful, as on the way there Mali asked him for some of his hoarded goldfish crackers and he handed them to her without my prompting, and without fuss.
We arrived. We parked. We couldn't get five steps away from the car without him flailing, lunging, and yelling at his little sister. Mission aborted.
I really started worrying -- we haven't seen that kind of violence from Leo since 2008, pre-Risperdal. What if Leo was sliding into an aggression cycle again? That would mean going back to no errands, no restaurants, no travel, no delicate visitors, and an even more circumscribed world for our social boy. A friend suggested investigating precocious puberty (our boys seem more susceptible), I started wondering about dental issues or meds dosage (his dosage has only changed by a miniscule amount in two years, though he's gained 15 - 20 lbs during that time), other folks suggested allergies and the Olberman-adjacent factors above.
But, because I have a hard time giving up and Leo deserves the benefit of the doubt, we tried going to the cafe again today. He was fine -- not one sign of aggression. He didn't sit next to Mali, but we don't allow such proximity anyhow; the measure of success was his not leaping across the table to get to her. And the rest of our afternoon was pleasant as well. I don't have an explanation for his seeming return to equlibrium, but I'm grateful.
Today we're going to attempt a family hike. There will be much discussion of the day's exact steps and schedule, and his iPad will come along for both visual schedule and entertainment purposes (did you know there's a Thomas the Tank Engine app? Leo is in heaven). The hike will be a schedule change, so we'll see if that's a bonafide trigger. And winter is always more difficult for Leo, as evidenced by seven years' worth of ABA data.
Not giving up on my boy. I enjoyed this video from Japan, about appreciating our kids' thinking instead of making assumptions:
P.S. One thing is certain -- Mali is going to need extra support, extra processing, extra listening, an extra-safe space to let her feelings work themselves out, because she is feeling traumatized -- again, understandable. She keeps asking me to sell Leo, and refused to sing him Happy Birthday. This is more than standard little sister antipathy. If you have advice or experience in the matter, please do share.