"No! I didn't just do that!" Elias cries and runs out to the living-room, where I find him later, asleep on the couch with a blanket over his head.
Rewind a half hour and Elias has his arms around Ms. Julia in our entryway: "I don't want you to go."
"I know, I'll miss you too," she says.
His beloved Respite provider and honorary Grandma is leaving for three weeks to meet her new twin grandchildren. He loves her and three weeks is a long time when you are nine and on the Autism spectrum.
"She'll be back before you know it," I say, trying to ease the departure.
Its almost eight on a school night, time for pajamas and brushing teeth.
Within minutes of Ms. Julia's departure, Elias is chasing after his sister over a book, on the verge of a meltdown. When I stand between them, he raises his arm up to hit me.
Nick catches it and somehow redirects Elias who makes his way to the bathroom to brush his teeth. I follow to help, as this is still a task he can't perform on his own.
Nick calls to Elias from the living room, "Come meet me on the couch for a story."
Olive stands outside the bathroom door, in the doorway to her room, watching her big brother. He's gonna push her as he walks by, I think.
And still, I am not prepared for what happens next.
As Elias walks past his sister he reaches his arm out, grabs her by the neck and pushes her head into the door. Hard.
"No! I didn't just do that!"
In the book, The Reason I Jump, Naoki Higashida, a thirteen year-old-boy from Japan who experiences Autism, writes:
"One of your biggest misunderstandings you have about us is your belief that our feelings arent as subtle and complex as yours. Because how we behave can appear so childish in your eyes, you tend to assume that we're childish on the inside too. But of course, we experience the same emotions that you do. And because people with autism aren't skillful talkers, we may in fact be even more sensitive than you are. Stuck here inside these unresponsive bodies of ours with feelings we can't properly express, its always a struggle just to survive. And its this feeling of helplessness that sometimes drives us half crazy, and brings on a panic attack or a meltdown.
When this is happening to us, please just let us cry, or yell, and get it all out. Stay close by and keep a gentle eye on us, and while we're swept up in our torment, please stop us from hurting ourselves or others."
A co-worker gave me Higashida's book before the Thanksgiving break and I read it in two sittings, devouring every word.
Instead of yelling or shaming or lecturing Elias, I held Olive, and when she calmed down, I told her, "Sweetie, your brother doesn't mean to hurt you. He's sad tonight about Ms. Julia leaving and doesn't know how to express it."
"Well, his feelings sometimes get stuck down deep inside him and come out confused, so instead of saying he's sad or crying he hits the people he loves."
"Mommy look," Olive links her pointer fingers around each other and says, "Friends. This means friends." She changes which finger is on top. "Friends we meet."
I look at my daughter who only knows one big brother, in awe of how she rolls.
She starts singing: "Thank you for the friends we meet. Thank you for the birds that fly. Thank you for the food we eat. Thank you for the earth and sky. Thank you, thank you, this we say. We are grateful everyday."
It is dark in her room as we lay in bed, so she doesn't see my tears.
Later, Nick tells me that he asked Elias, as he lay on the couch with his head under a blanket, if he was sad about Ms Julia leaving. He replied, "Yeah, I'm really gonna miss her."
Though Elias's face words or actions may not always reveal it, the boy carries a complex tapestry of emotions inside that skinny little body of his--and the one feeling I've often wondered about, he showed me a glimpse of when he pulled that blanket over his head. My former micro-preemie feels remorse.