There was a story on NPR the other day about the Fever Effect in children with autism. There was a study done that says that fever in some children with autism will decrease their autistic behaviors, and goes on to say that they are studying how certain protiens that change in the brain during a fever could be developed to help children without actually causing illness. I didn't hear the story, rabid npr listener though I am, but a colleague at school was talking about it. I listened, mouth open in awe, because I had just witnessed it earlier in the week. One of my kids' behaviors when he is anxious is to say "I don't like" to whoever he happens to lay eyes on, or "I don't want" something he knows is coming up, even if the thing that is coming up is candy or something enjoyable. He was out sick for two days this week, and I knew it was coming because the morning he came down with it, he got off the bus, quietly said "good morning, Anne, where's Pam?", and proceeded to have appropriate behavior all morning long. Even his voice was different. He was a completely different child. At about 10:00 his nose started to run, and he got pale, and when he went home at the end of the day, I knew he'd be out sick the next day.
Yesterday he was back at school, still not feeling entirely himself, but most of his behaviors were back, so I knew he was on the mend. And yesterday my partner was out sick, so it was particularly stressful, not just for me but for the kids as well. Especially for the kids. We had a sub with us, who was terrific, but kids with autism have a hard time with change. One of the girls in our group is very attached to my partner, and she had a very difficult time, hitting herself, pulling her hair, when I instructed her to do things that we normally do every day. I am still learning at this job - getting them from point a to b in their schedule is easy, getting them to communicate is much harder, and talking them down from a tantrum is still scary for me - not because I feel that I am in danger, but because the tools I have at my disposal - timers and calm down schedules and a different language - are still so new to me that I feel clumsy when I use them, and I think even years of doing this can never innoculate you to how heartwrenching it is. But I know they need me, in that moment, to be solidly there for them. I was able to just be with her, talk her through her calm down schedule, and she finally calmed herself down enough to get through the rest of the day. But I know more than anything, she doesn't want to do this, she doesn't want to feel this way or to hurt herself or anyone else, and it takes a harder heart than my own to not feel it for hours after it's over.
As I put her on the bus, she said "boo, peas", which I knew meant that she wanted a piece of blue candy. My partner usually tucks her on the bus with a piece of candy, because she's nicer than I am. I explained that I didn't have candy, and signed that I was sorry, and she copied me, signing sorry herself, and asked me to squeeze her hands. As I squeezed her tiny hands, the hands she uses to hit herself, to fling her hair when she's angry, the hands she bites when she's out of control, I wanted so much to be able to give her something - not candy - but a cure that would allow us to talk about, well, anything really.
That's why I can't get that story out of my mind. Because it seems so hopeful, so possible, that one day they might be able to maneuver in the world like you and I do.