Transitions have become increasingly difficult for Rhema. Be it from the dinner table to the bath, the house to the car, the car to the house, upstairs to downstairs… she is not coping well with moving from one thing to the next. When I try to help her along by taking her hand, she resists. Touching her triggers her fight reflex, and she quickly escalates to full meltdown. Thus, her teachers and I have learned that it’s best not to touch her in these transitions.
I still have been unable to get respite care. But God has sent us an angel named Melissa. She was Rhema’s aide last summer, and is helping us again this year. She’s had to meet a long list of requirements to be recognized by the military program as a respite care provider. One of these is a background check by the FBI. (!)
So down to the police station we went – Melissa, Rhema, Hope and I – to get Melissa finger-printed.
We waited nearly an hour in a sectioned-off area at the front of the station. Finally Melissa’s fingerprints were done, and we were ready to go. Rhema was not. I think she wanted to walk through the station. We had waited all that time – there must be something to do or see – we couldn’t just leave.
So Melissa and I tried everything to coax her from her chair.
“Rhema! It’s time to go bye-bye! All done!” We said with exaggerated cheerfulness. We dangled reinforcers – the iTouch, pen and paper to scribble on, bottled water. Melissa ran outside into the rain and waved and called to Rhema through a window. I held out my hand – careful not to touch her – and urged, “C’mon, baby. C’mon.”
This went on for some time, but nothing worked. At one point Rhema inched toward the door and then rushed back to her seat. I dug down deep for patience and calm.
I crouched down in front of her chair, “Piggy back ride?” She climbed on, and I booked it to the door. Outside, Rhema realized she’d been duped. She flipped off my back and headed toward the station. I intercepted her. She dropped to the ground flailing, struggling with me in the wet grass.
I asked Melissa to take Hope to the van. Unfortunately we were parked around the corner.
Rhema bolted to a stairwell leading down to a cellar. There was a chain blocking it, but she ignored it and raced down the dark stairs. I followed her, scared to death that we’d encounter a rodent. “Rhema,” I pleaded, holding out my hand. “Please come. Please come. Time to go.”
Moments later she bolted past me, up the stairs, across the grass. Again I tried to stop her, fearful now that she’d run into the street. Instead she ran down the sidewalk – the opposite direction of where I’d parked.
I caught her and tried to steer her toward the van. Cars zoomed by, she sat down in the rain, held onto my leg for dear life, and refused to move. I looked into her glazed eyes – she was so lost, so confused, so, so scared.
She jumped and blindly raced up another set of stairs – this time into an apartment building. Two rather tough-looking women were standing on a small porch at the top of the stairs, smoking. They had witnessed our struggle on the street. I tried to explain, “She has autism…”
Inside, Rhema attempted to open every single door. The mat in front of one door said “Police Line Do Not Cross.” Before I realized it was a joke, I thought, My kid’s breaking into a halfway house!
As we raced back out, past the women, one of them called out to me softly, kindly,
“She’s really pretty.”
If I could have stopped I would have certainly thanked her… and dissolved into tears on the spot.
Somehow I managed to carry Rhema all the way to the car. We were dirty and soaked. Melissa helped me try to get her into her car seat, but she was too strong. She wrestled herself away and ran all the way back to the police station. I found her humming and rocking, sitting in that same chair inside the station.
And that’s when I cried.
I had a sense at that moment that we’d entered into a new phase of our journey, one that I’m not prepared for, one that is infinitely harder than I ever could have imagined. Where my biggest wish is not that my child speak or make it into a mainstream school setting; my goal is simply that we make it through the day. It feels like autism – this older, bigger, stronger form – is slapping me around and breaking my heart.
In desperation I asked an officer to help me get my girl to the car. He was not helpful, but he did let us walk through the station and go out a back door, shortening the distance I’d have to travel to the van. After some time, Melissa and I were able to get Rhema into the trunk of the van. Melissa sat quietly with Rhema in her arms. We gave her a drink. Slowly Rhema began to calm, and to weep. Eventually we were able to get her into her car seat. Compliant, she let us buckle her.
As I drove her home Melissa said,
“I didn’t know if those were Rhema’s tears or yours. Were you crying?”
My smile was sad.
“Maybe… just a little.”
“Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart…” ~Isaiah 7:4