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Fa. La. La. Vapor Lock.

December 9, 2012

You know what’s really fun for a lot of kids whose families celebrate Christmas? The decorating, the lights, the holiday events, the month-long traditions leading up to it, the smells, the sights, the sounds.

You know what’s really derailing for kids who love Christmas but have sensory and attentional issues?

We had signed Bobo and his dear friend up for a class at the local arts center–a cool-sounding three hours of homemade giftmaking for family and friends. I had that little catch in my stomach as I did it–the internal soft watch it I get when I know we are trying something right at the edge of his ability, but he said he wanted to and we soldiered forward. Because that is what we do. All was prepared, and ten minutes before his friend arrived at our house for a pre-class lunch it finally clicked for Bobo that the class was to make predetermined projects, not a free for all.


Given what we’ve survived in past years I wouldn’t call what followed a meltdown, necessarily. But his whole body went rigid, there were tears, and he unequivocally refused to go to the class. Ross Greene, who wrote a marvelous book called The Explosive Child, calls this vapor lock–the product of an overactive amygdala that gets triggered into a fight/flight/freeze response by either external or internl triggers. There is no logic to be used, no consequences to be threatened, no bribery to be done (well, occasionally that works, but rarely and it’s not my favorite strategy). Those parts of the brain get shut down by the amygdala, so they aren’t even accessible. And he can’t do it.

So we did what we do. I rubbed his back, tried to convince him briefly about the class (no dice), and engaged him in collaborative problem-solving about another option which was fair to his friend and to him. And his easy going friend arrived and was completely up for plan B, and I had them make a craft list and ran to Target and dropped money I wasn’t planning to spend on craft supplies, and they happily crafted for several hours. Bobo’s friend made carefully considered gifts for each family member, and Bobo did free for alls with clay and pipe cleaners and had to be reminded he had people on his list to make things for. And they had a wonderful time together. And he did it.

Metaphorically speaking, Kevin and I did all this with one hand. With the other, we were frantically trying our hardest to push aside feelings, the reactions to the pendulum swing which we are used to but still happen. Those feelings saying really? He can’t even do THIS? and sadness, and fear about what life will be like for our Bobo, and those little pings of pain about not having a parenting experience with a typical child who can roll with things and participate in the way we would like him to. Not to mention we had to suddenly give up our long-planned afternoon on our own together, without a kid, to just relax and enjoy each others’ company. On a small, whispery quiet level, we each wander around the house at these times trying to soothe ourselves and each other out of mini-vapor locks of grief and anger and depletion. And then we do it.

And the pendulum swings the other way too, as we notice how much better this is now than it has ever been, how much more regulated Bobo is  than he has ever been, thinking about all the new information we are contemplating about his diagnostic picture and the new possibilities for treatment. And we dig deep to find energy to do it.


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One Comment
  1. Jenni permalink

    So beautifully written. You could have been describing our household. Know that you are definitely not alone in your experience. Thank you for sharing.

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