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Son can't tell me what is wrong - tips?

(14 Posts)
FunnyHowThingsWorkOut Mon 01-Jun-15 19:47:39

My son (10, probable ASD) will sometimes come home from school withdrawn, monosyllabic, grumpy, white. If I try to draw him out he says it is nothing, he's fine, just tired. Later it might come to him lying on his bed staring into space or listlessly fiddling with lego or his rubiks cube. He actively rejects my attempts to comfort or chat. I ask open questions, I ask closed questions, I get very little response.

This happened quite a lot last autumn and on the LAST DAY of winter term he managed to tell me by email that his so called friend had done something mean. After a series of messages it transpired theat he had been bullying him all term. I sat on the bed and answered him on my phone while he emailed from his laptop. The teacher dealt with it fine.

Today he is similarly grumpy and says he is tired. I have emailed him and am presently waiting a response.

But what else can I do? I don't even know if he always knows what is wrong, iyswim. It could be anything. It could be a minor disagreement didn't go his way, or he is worried about a trip coming up, or it could be bullying again. But if he won't fucking tell me how can I help? Is it all down to his social communication difficulties or he is drawing me into some kind of attention seeking thing? What can I do?

PolterGoose Mon 01-Jun-15 20:44:28

It doesn't sound attention seeking to me, and I've found with my ds that questioning sends him further into shutdown mode and isn't helpful at all. You might find (as I did) that just backing right off and letting him slowly wind down after school is more helpful.

Also what's worked here is using rating scales rather than labelling emotions/feelings, the 'incredible 5 point scale' is a common one though I just made it up as I went along.

Are you pursuing assessment?

FunnyHowThingsWorkOut Mon 01-Jun-15 21:01:01

Thank you. Just lost massive post so I'll re marshal my thoughts.

FunnyHowThingsWorkOut Mon 01-Jun-15 21:35:29

Thank you for this. He emailed back saying he was just tired. Maybe it is the change in routine going back after half term.

I am very aware of his need to decompress. We do this by maintaining a pretty firm routine each week - we go to a few sport clubs (which he loves), and listen to a CD on the way to the activity so he doesn't have to interact too much. If we are at home he can play minecraft or lego or do something with me (but generally doesn't want to). His dad (my DH) is exactly the same after a day at work so I don't get a lot of conversation! I actually recognised a lot of this in both of them: alexithymia

I only quiz him if he seems bad. I ask 'Did something happen?' and when he shrugs me off I leave it it til later and ask him in a quiet moment 'Did you play football at lunch today? Was maths hard?' etc. Something to just get him to speak a bit. But you are probably right, there is no point if it doesn't work. How depressing.

So how am I supposed to find out what is going on? I can feel waves of misery coming off him. I don't have a magic ball. Teachers just say things like, 'Oh he seemed fine to me!' Maybe I just let him get on with it and when things get too bad trust that he will have to say something somehow.

We are pursuing diagnosis. Privately as he is no one's priority but ours. sad I want more information about his various conditions before secondary school.

PolterGoose Mon 01-Jun-15 21:43:31

Strangely things got better here towards the end of primary when I gave up really and stopped expecting to be told anything or know what was going on and just focused on making non-school time as anxiety free and demand free as possible.

The Dawn Huebner 'What to do when...' CBT workbooks are a great resource if you want to have a go at a structured therapeutic intervention yourself.

FunnyHowThingsWorkOut Mon 01-Jun-15 21:49:55

I've used two of those books with great results with my daughter. I used them with both of them, but my son, he didn't really get what I meant by quite a lot of it.

If I said, 'Let's draw a picture of something you are worried about,' my daughter could draw pages and pages of her worries. Then we would talk about them, use all the techniques suggested in the book and they worked. My son could / would not identify one thing that worried him. He just looked alarmed and wandered off.

PolterGoose Mon 01-Jun-15 21:54:35

Oh bless him, how hard.

Do you have pets? Wildlife and our cat and fish (plus wild frogs, newts and slowworms which are so prevalent in our garden they're like pets!) have been great for my ds.

FunnyHowThingsWorkOut Mon 01-Jun-15 22:00:13

We do have pets. grin He looks after his ant farm beautifully. I have pretty much promised that he can get a snake when our chickens die - can't handle another pet just now. Shouldn't be long. grin

He also digs in the garden for stress relief. We now have a fucking massive pond. We already had a pond but we had to do something with the huge hole he dug. grin

School and teachers are not useless but underestimate how much he holds it together. Other children are so ... disorderly and immature and not sufficiently interested in money, business, and computers.

Ach, we have had worse times. This was just a blip today, a blip that reminds me of his hard times. He just will have hard times. Life is stressful for children like him.

OneInEight Tue 02-Jun-15 06:31:29

This does not always often work but we have greater success with "Can I help you with anything?" than "What is wrong?" when the ds's stomp about and something is clearly amiss. They also need sometime with no demands to unwind when they come home from school in a bad mood. ds2 in particular finds it very hard to communicate to what is upsetting him though.

FunnyHowThingsWorkOut Tue 02-Jun-15 14:24:09

Thank you. He was a bit down again this morning so I gave him a squeeze and said, 'let me know if there's anything I can do' and read him out some funny, (u rated) MN posts which he always loves.

blankgaze Tue 02-Jun-15 15:39:09

My experience is with someone who already has communication difficulties and would struggle to articulate 'what's wrong' even if they were feeling carefree and great, your circumstances may be different.

Your description of your son in the OP is what I'd have said is or is close to shutdown. It's the opposite of meltdown but caused by overwhelm/sensory overload just the same. dcs need time to transition and filter all of the day's experiences before they can be fully present at home.

I found that any questions I asked during shutdown only made things a thousand times worse when dd was already overloaded and could even escalate the situation into a meltdown due to the pressure she was under to answer and her inability to put her experiences into words at that point. If given a choice type question, she would just agree with it to stop the pressure of further questioning, so any questions phrased in the way of 2Is it because?" would get an automatic "Yes" response. Over time, I learned that I had to keep quiet, provide a secure safe space and let her volunteer the correct information in her own way and in her own time.

FunnyHowThingsWorkOut Tue 02-Jun-15 16:01:41

Yes, I would describe it as shutdown. I have described it as that in the past. Sometimes when I have managed to get him to put it into words he will say that everything is too much. But it is probably not strictly sensory overload, more everything overload, iyswim? Expectations, social, academic, busy-ness overload.

For me, if I think know shutdown as an autistic 'state', like meltdown is an autistic 'state', that helps me behave appropriately. Same with when someone told me that limbo is an autistic 'state', when they don't have a specific set of instructions so they default to a specific limbo behaviour. That isbEXACTLY what my son does when he doesn't know what to do, and I recognise it now and know how to handle it.

So. Shutdown is a thing. Best way to handle is allow space, comfort, and no demands and no questions. Trying to find out what triggered it is likely to be pointless and stressful. Okay.

blankgaze Tue 02-Jun-15 17:06:01

I've not heard of limbo before, dd's like a deer caught in the headlights when she doesn't understand an instruction which I guess is the same thing. All of the states are anxiety-driven, so it's up to us to lessen the anxiety using appropriate strategies applicable to the individual child to let the child express themselves.

It's just a case of finding what works best for your dc and providing it at the right time. Something like deep pressure, fidget toys, soft toys, body sock, bubble light, beanbag, peanut ball, ear defenders, warm bath, physical activity, being 'wrapped' in cushions or a weighted blanket.

It can be as simple as being in bed with a book or hiding under the covers watching the patterns from a multicoloured torch, right through to some more complicated strategies.

There are lots of ideas on this site and similar ones, cheapdisabilityaids.co.uk/daily-living-life-style-aids-9-c.asp basically what you need to do is reduce his anxiety levels in a way that he will be happy to respond to. Some kids like to retreat from the world for a bit, others like a physical intervention, some like both smile

FunnyHowThingsWorkOut Tue 02-Jun-15 17:41:48

The limbo I was talking about for my son is when, forninstance, we just get home from school and maybe the plan isn't exactly clear but I just need to sort something out and he isn't sure what to do. He will sort of tiptoe walk and jig about and ask repeated questions about things he knows the answer to or follow me about. He just doesn't know what to do. He can't always just go and entertain himself.

Annoyingly he also does it when he does have options but chooses not to take them. Like if I say, 'Why don't you play lego or work on your x?' that might not be quite enough to break through his limbo, so he'll refuse and stay in this limbo state. I end up having to say, 'Go and read a book.'

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