Detained at the Police Station

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

48 thoughts on “Detained at the Police Station

  1. My dear, this is the part where you must not lose hope. See, even though i am not a parent (i am a mere care provider myself) I know it can be frustrating and sometimes you just beg for strength and courage. I’ve run and chased and begged for an idea or for a plan for us to get out of a difficult situation. Combined to all the difficulties we encountered i had to calm him down because his self injurious behavior was worsening by the minute. All i can say is that you WILL find the way. Even with the toughest kids ( or better, the toughest parts of autism in kids) you manage to get creative enough, courageous enough and somehow, when you least expect it you find yourself able to deal with a lot. Much more than you ever imagined. My thoughts are with you. Don’t lose hope! xx Ellie

  2. My heart aches and my palms are sweaty as I live this experience through your words. I know you must have felt so defeated. I know when Olivia is in the middle of a meltdown, I become overwhelmed by thoughts of the future. Which only adds fuel to my tears.
    I wish I had words to make it all better. I don’t know what to do but pray.
    So, pray, I will.

  3. Oh, Jeneil. I so relate to this. I’m now trying to get through the day without my strong little boy attacking me — choking me. I wrote in his home journal this week that I need training in how to hold him when he’s attacking. And it’s often simply because I’ve said no to something or attempted to redirect a behavior. I am scared to death that autism is becoming bigger than me. It’s 24/7 and it’s frightening for Jack and the whole family. It is heartbreaking. It is hell. We are doing everything we can medically and behaviorally, but things are close to spinning out of control.. It is so hard. 😦

  4. Oh, I am sorry. Just so sorry. I wish I had words that could comfort. It is my prayers that the words from your “comments” section encircle you. That they are somehow a hand on your shoulder letting you knw that you are not alone. I hope that Melissa is able to help you today. I am just so sorry.

  5. Thank you for the word…I am keeping calm and not loosing hope with you and your wonderful family. The word of God comforted me that you shared..
    We look to eternal life being in our glorified bodies with no pain…This is not our home. You are shining God’s word through every part of life and this is the power of the word of God when our words can’t comfort or give hope God’s word will and can. With you and family in spirit and sharing ther joy’s and sad moment’s together with God’s spirit. Love you!

  6. I, too, have had such days, if it is any comfort to you to know you are not alone. I found that what made my Alex panic like that is when things when differently than expected. This would send him into panic mode. I had to rely on lots of drawings, and later words (he can read) to prepare him for things. Sometimes those things were regular routines like bedtime and sometimes I needed to prepare him for the unusual, like your trip to the Police Station. Now, after years of these type illustrated (or later written) schedules, I can tell him what is going to happen and he is able to happily do whatever is on our plate for the day. If I forget to tell him, we still get the panic mode, which is quite a sight to see with his large 16-year old body!! All practical advise aside, I think you are doing a wonderful job with Rhema and you are both blessed to have each other. And, the lady was right. Rhema is beautiful.

  7. So sorry – such a hard struggle. A similar experience trying to bring my son from the parking garage to the Aquarium was terrifying for me. I was sure his bolting would lead to me witnessing him getting hurt, or be hurt with him as I tried to protect him. In the end we requested a handicapped parking permit so that we could minimize the distance between our car and our destination. It has helped tremendously! Wishing you strength and courage!

  8. “It feels like autism – this older, bigger, stronger form – is slapping me around and breaking my heart.” Me too. It’s like people who just blew off our concerns… we must be overly protective, or just bad parents… are shocked to see this big, six year old boy throwing down and screaming, running from me… they don’t understand that we can’t stand around after church and talk. He will bolt to the door and into the highway in front of the church in a heartbeat. This morning I’m home with all three while my husband goes, because my 16 month old daughter is having a reaction to amoxicillin… she’s a fabulous pink leopard… and since my husband plays drums in the band, he can’t sit with Ryan during the service. If he saw Richie (his 3 year old bro) go, he’d be upset. So we’ve billed it as a workday… daddy’s going to work, we see him after naps. Thank you so much for sharing. You make me feel less alone… especially this morning.

  9. Jeneil, I am praying for you. We do not live with autism, but the irrational unrecoverable melt-downs and rages hit home. I just cry and hold on to the fact that God promises it will not always be this way. And it will, always, forever be more than we can imagine. When we get there, I’d love to sit on one of God’s park benches next to you, wrapped in praise at the sight of my Hope and your Rhema interacting as friends. There, the only bolting will be ours: to God’s throne to say, “Thank you.”

  10. Oh I’m so sorry. What a hard hard day. I can’t tell you the number of times I had a shoulder/elbow and all my weight on Daniel to get him into a seat. Or the number of times we were pulled over on the side of the road because he was attacking everyone in the car or banging his head on the window. All I can say, is, for us at least, in some ways it has gotten easier as he has grown. But growing up also brings a new set of issues! I haven’t been writing but maybe will again as I’m not really working for the summer. I hope to reconnect with you! Hugs and love to you!!

  11. I’m so sorry; that sounds like a rough day. I have been there with my own son and also being a teacher to children with Autism, I have had those moments with transition in the public and they were not pretty. As one person mentioned, do not give up hope. Transistions and expectations are so very challenging for our kids. You have great support and so happy you got your respite services. Keep the faith!

  12. Thank you so much for sharing. So many of us are going through this and it’s so nice to hear another’s story. We all shed our tears but knowing that others are going through the same thing helps.

  13. Oh dear. I am so sorry. I sometimes feel exactly the same way. Usually though, after a bout of these darker moments in which I feel as though autism will swallow all of us whole, there is a breakthrough, a ray of light, hope, strength. I’m holding you in my heart today as you navigate through this darker of times moment. Know that it will get better and that it is okay, cathartic even, to cry. Abrazos.

  14. I’m so sorry to hear about your awful day. But at the same time, I have to tell you how much I appreciate your honesty. It makes me feel like I’m not alone with this. We had a difficult time with our son at church this morning, ended in him laying on the floor kicking and screaming and I couldn’t get him to move, while everyone stared. It’s just not fair.

    I’ll pray for you today, and based on the other comments I’d guess that you have prayers going up for you all over the world. Hang in there.

  15. i cant read all the responses due to tears in my eyes, this might be a stupid question but have u tried a picture schedule? it worked wonders for my son and we got to no the people at target photo counter VERY WELL, down to the pics of poop in toliet and on floor that we put circle and line thur, they never questioned a pic after that

  16. As a mother of a non verbal 19 yr old all I have to say is that I understand you and that I will keep all of you in my prayers because we’ve been in that same situation a lot. Hopefully one day there will be a cure for autism!

  17. Every word- I can relate to every word. “Meltdown” sounds way to benign to describe what happens when my son’s sensory system gets overwhelmed, shifts into panic/fear mode, and he runs, screams or lashes out. It’s scary. So scary for him I’m sure. And now he’s fast and strong and what worked in the past isn’t working. So now I’m scared that he’s only 9 and it’s only getting harder. No one seems to really understand. Thank you always for writing and letting me know I am not alone on this journey.

  18. oh, to come home to this. all of your comments of support and prayers and ‘i’ve been there’s’… THANK YOU. i wish that you couldn’t relate to this story, but i’m so grateful to know that i’m not alone. truly lifts me up. every difficult transition and all the heartbreaking moments – and they seem to happen every day lately – i will pray for all of our special children.

  19. Jeneil, it’s taken me all day to shake the grief and fear this post stirred in me…for you and Rhema and for my own sweet boy. I can only add my voice to the others here in reassuring you that you are NOT alone and that there are so very many people sending prayers and love and holding on to the hope of brighter days ahead. Much love.

  20. Jeneil, you are an amazing mama and your strength, grace and unending love for your girls oozes out of everything you write…even the incredibly hard stuff. Thankful you have Melissa to help and praying that a new day brings new mercies and many little blessings of encouragement in the midst of hard days.

  21. Jeneil, this made my heart hurt. I wish I had more words, more answers. Know that I am praying, as so many of us are. Know you are not alone. Know that you WILL make it through this. I am so sorry this is so hard sometimes.

  22. I do very much want to say something comforting, but instead I’ll just say that I am sorry for days like that. And I wish I had an idea of what to try to prevent another one. Can I bring you french fries instead? I wish!

  23. I want you to know that your child popped up in my dream last night. I am a new reader to your blog but it has been a good week since I have been to your site. In my dream as soon as I said “Rhema” tears welled up into my eyes. I was calling out to her to join the family on an outing. Until I identified her she could have been anyone. I knew her immediately. I want you to know that you have shared your life with me through the blog and now you all are a part of my life. She is all of our children. Thank you.

  24. I hope today is a better day and tomorrow is better than today and so on and so on and so on. I prayed for you yesterday. I’m not sure why but you were in my thoughts. I will pray for you again today.

  25. I just found your blog about a week ago and I am so grateful. Both of my kids have autism and I can so relate. I needed the reminder to not lose heart. Thank you for this.

  26. I am not a parent but rather a teacher and I have had those moments with my kids with autism where it feels like the autism is bigger than anything and you so long to be able to reach them to take away the fear and panic. And my experiences were so miniscle compared to those of a parent. I had my heart breaking for you and felt those tears. I will pray for you and for Rhema, for comfort and peace.

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