|*Not* from the team photo shoot.|
1) Leo hasn't been sleeping well lately, often getting up at 3 AM then staying awake all day until his usual bedtime. This means both he and we (Seymour and I alternate hanging out with Leo in the mornings) are sleep-deprived and so not at our best, decision-making-wise. I should have put more thought into whether Leo would be able to tolerate an activity as chaotic and demanding as a team photo shoot.
2) Leo usually has a Sunday respite session with Therapist V, his former linebacker best buddy ever (V is strong enough to pick Leo up and sling our boy over his shoulders; Leo adores roughhousing), but yesterday their session was cancelled due to matters beyond anyone's control. So that made things harder for Leo as well -- the reliable, soothing, predictable structure of his Sunday was doubly compromised, first by V's absence, then by the photo shoot.
3) Putting on his uniform after already playing on Saturday and then not going to the usual soccer field (the shoot took place at a park nearby) was very confusing, and possibly a trigger for Leo. I should have taken more time, made more materials, explained better what the photo shoot was about, how it was going to be different from a game day. But, because I was tired, I didn't take the time to prepare him sufficiently. That is on me.
4) Anything scheduled during lunch is bad. Leo lives for lunch. Since he'd been up so long, he'd already had two breakfasts by the time we left for the photo shoot -- one breakfast rather late in the morning -- and I figured I could push Leo's lunch back accordingly. Bad idea. Lunch is at noon, no matter how many breakfasts a boy has had. That lack-of-lunch was the breaking point for Leo. I understand this now.
It was only after we'd already arrived at the park and Leo started making his displeasure known (slapping the picnic tables, yelling) that I realized my son was approaching a perfect storm of Hell No. But, as he's also maturing, I tried to encourage him to power through, to see if he could take a picture anyhow.
No. He was having none of it, and became increasingly vocally and physically agitated. I brought out various things that usually calm him -- iPad, fruit leathers, music -- but he was very much All Done.
Then one of the other parents then told him he needed to calm down and behave, which I get from an It Takes a Village perspective but which is of absolutely no use with autistic kids like Leo. That's the point at which I lost it.
I already knew I'd failed Leo, was already berating myself for setting him up to fail in public -- but having a semi-stranger then judge him for being out of control was more than I could take (if you don't know me IRL, even small-scale in-person confrontations makes me cry, unless I'm righteously furious). I put on my sunglasses to cover my streaming eyes, told the coach we were leaving, and we left.
We hit In-N-Out on the way home, shared French fries and a shake, and went home. Leo changed his clothes and headed straight into our pool. And then happiness reigned. His day had normalized. He was in control. Lunch had happened. Things were as they should be.
I'm writing this down because I think it's important to show lessons learned in [autism] parenting, even if they make me look bad. Because even though I know and understand so much of what it takes to help Leo get through his day, I need to stay mindful of when and how things can be harder for him. Being off schedule in any way is confusing and stressful, as is sleep deprivation. And when I'm feeling stressed or overwhelmed, that is when I need to be extra-vigilant about ensuring that Leo has proper supports. He depends on me. As capable as he has become, and as well as he has been doing in so many stressful scenarios, it is my job to smooth the path in front of him. He deserves better than being dragged into a public meltdown.
He failed because I failed. And it made us both miserable. I wish I hadn't had to re-learn what I already know, and at my son's expense, but I hope our lesson can help other folks avoid such clusterfucks.
Leo, I love you, and I'm so sorry.
The only bright spot in the morning: I got to see and hug my dear friend MB, whom I've not seen in person for years. xo, Lady.