Ever since he was little, we’ve never really had much of an issue with J brushing his teeth or having a bath or shower. He went through a phase about a year or so ago of not being keen to have a bath, but at the suggestion of my friend @TheLittleBoysWhoWaited we introduced glo sticks to the bath as a reward and because he adores glo sticks this totally reversed the situation – it ended up being difficult to get him out of the bath!
For the last couple of months though, for no apparent reason, J has had an aversion to brushing his teeth and having a bath or shower. Yesterday was a prime example – he was fabulous all day, from getting dressed in the morning and walking to school, all the way through beyond dinnertime. He went upstairs with Daddy P at 8pm for bedtime without any fuss. He got into his PJs. He walked into the bathroom, and took hold of his toothbrush. And there the argument started.
He brushed his teeth for perhaps 10 seconds before stopping. Daddy P asked him to carry on. “Please will you help me, daddy” was the plead. Daddy P said “You carry on for a little longer, and I’ll check them when you’re finished” J wasn’t having any of it. He repeated his plea again and again and again, becoming louder, becoming more upset, begging Daddy P to help him.
Now, this is where we hit a stumbling block. Daddy P will continue repeating himself as much as J is, gradually getting louder and more upset, and the two of them end up getting upset and frustrated and saying the same thing over and over again. It doesn’t resolve anything and it upsets me to hear them go at it like that. Eventually Daddy P walked away and J was trying to bargain with him “If you come back, I’ll do it” and Daddy P was saying “No, you haven’t done it when I’ve asked you all the other times, why would I believe you now?” I went to the bathroom and prevented J from getting out of it, explained calmly that he needed to carry on brushing his teeth and Daddy P would come back as soon as he carried on. He tried to get past me, his breathing fast, tears rolling down his cheeks, pleading with me, “I need to get out, I need to get Daddy” and I was saying “No, no, if you sit down and do as you’ve been asked Daddy comes back, if you don’t then he won’t” but it took quite a while for him to calm down and do it. Maybe we’re doing it wrong – we’ve tried every way we can think of and it still continues to be an issue. He knows how to brush his teeth – he knows to brush his teeth for 2 minutes – he was so taken with Daddy’s electric toothbrush we got him his own special Spiderman one which he loves – his toothpaste hasn’t changed, he still uses the Aquafresh one for his age group and suddenly halfway through the existing tube he started complaining that it’s “too minty”.
Every morning before school he brushes his teeth for me without an issue. I cannot work out why on earth he feels so differently about brushing his teeth in the evening – and it’s not just Daddy P that has this toothbrush terror experience, if it’s my turn the same happens at the same point. I don’t know why, I don’t know what kicked it off, I don’t know how to stop it because I don’t know what started it.
As for bathtime … well … I really don’t know what on earth happened there. Our shower was replaced a while back, when the motor failed in the old one, but J is still very much focused on the noise of the shower, despite the fact the noise was due to the old one having issues and the new one is much more quiet. However like with his horror about hand driers in public toilets, as soon as you reach for the shower controls in front of him he freaks out, covering his ears, “No, no, no, no” crying big fat tears and trying to run away and hide. I keep saying it’s OK, it’s the new shower, it’s not as noisy, but even so it takes a while for him to calm down.
Once in the shower, he then doesn’t want you to wet his head, because he’s so frightened of water going over his face. Despite the fact he hasn’t had a ‘bad’ experience of soap in his eyes, and I’ve deliberately got him some kids shampoo which doesn’t sting the eyes, he will have a massive freak out about that, too, and then he’ll refuse to look up like you’re asking so the bubbles and water goes into his eyes and over his face and despite the fact it’s kids shampoo he’ll freak out. He doesn’t like the way the water feels on him, because it tickles, and rather than saying “it’s too hot” or “it’s too cold” he’ll just squeal a high pitched squeal and dance and try to run away so you’re left frustrated and trying to guess what the issue is. Sounds like it’s easier to just give him a bath, right? Wrong.
The trouble with a bath, is getting him in it. He’ll come into the bathroom and then run out again. He’ll shout, he’ll scream, he’ll freak out. He’ll squeal about the temperature of the water, and if you manage to persuade him to put one toe into the water chances are he’ll scream even more and run off screaming. If you manage to get a whole foot in, then it’ll be with much screaming and crying and guilt on my part because I think this cannot be good for him – it must be re-enforcing the idea in his head that bathtime is something to be feared and dreaded and seen as something horrible. Once in the bath, he’s OK, and he’ll wash no problem, but again the hair washing is a traumatic experience, with more screaming and crying and carrying-on.
Last weekend, we went to my in-laws house, as my sister in law was there for the weekend. With her was my nephew and my niece. J was thrilled to be going round there and seeing them but unfortunately he was far too over-excited from the start and the day was particularly exhausting with much screaming, crying and stressing – and that was just me! I’d had a brainwave, that we’d take J’s bath stuff with us so him and his cousin A could have a bath together; they’d last done it back around Christmas, and had a great time of it, thoroughly enjoying themselves and there was no issue at all from J about any of it. I thought maybe – just maybe – his cousin being there would make the experience more enjoyable for J.
How wrong could I be. It was a traumatic experience of tears, screaming, shouts of “no, no, no” , running off, refusing to get into the bath, arguing etc. Poor A looked on confused – he loves bathtime! – as his older cousin was freaking out completely and the noise in the bathroom was amazing. Little baby A, my niece, came upstairs with Grandma and to my amusement she seemed to find it entertaining – it was deafening in the bathroom but there was little A giggling away as if it was the funniest thing in the world! Me, however, I was less entertained. I was hot, I was exhausted, and I was on the verge of crying. I had to get Daddy P upstairs to help as everything I asked J to do he was refusing to do as I asked.
The entire experience was horrible, and exhausting, and left me cross with J, which made me upset with myself for being cross with J.
I’m becoming impatient now for this CDC assessment – not to put J into a box, but because without this assessment I’m unable to get the support I need right now for dealing with instances like this. As I said, I’m sure by forcing the issue and getting into stressful situations like this isn’t good for any of us – but he needs a bath, or a shower, the same as he needs to brush his teeth, so what else can I do apart from keep persevering, which leads to these awful situations? I can’t cope with his meltdowns at the moment, they’re getting more frequent and more difficult to get under control, and then when myself or Daddy P gets upset as well I feel even more disappointed in ourselves. We’re going round and round in circles, with no sign of it getting any better. I don’t want to spend my time shouting and arguing with him and taking away his pleasures and making things miserable for him, but I need help to better control these situations, to get them under control quickly and prevent them escalating or, even better, help to understand why he is reacting in this way and how I can stop it before it’s started.
His sensory perception seems to go into overload in the summer – whether it’s the heat, the bright colours, the crowds of people, the noise, a combination of it all, I’m not sure, but at times my wonderful, brilliant, bright little boy goes into complete meltdown and I’m powerless to stop it or help him. It seems to get worse each time summer rolls round – whether it’s as he’s getting older, or it’s because the summer is becoming more difficult for him to deal with as he gets older, I’m not sure, but we started off very positively with regards to support from his school with this but since his ed psych assessment we seem to have hit a brick wall and seem to be going nowhere. It looks like nagging Mummy P is going to have to rear her head again in order to get things moving once more.
With that in mind, I’m off to call the school SENCO to arrange a catch up meeting and see if we can’t shift things along a bit. Perhaps with her job role she’ll be able to contact the CDC and enquire whether we’re expected to wait much longer for his assessment, as I fear the longer we wait, the more damage is being (unintentionally) done. I hate the constant battles with him, he’s my boy and all I want to do is love him and protect him, but at times when your buttons have been pushed all day, all week long and you’re tired and fed up of the same old thing, it’s difficult not to snap and shout and handle things badly – I hold my hands up, I am only human after all and I do make mistakes! But I hope with some support and guidance we can make it through this without it ending in the big tears of upset, disappointment and guilt that too-often accompany our days.
Peace & Love,
x x x x x
If you’ve never dealt with a person with autism, it can be difficult to understand. While J remains undiagnosed, as time goes on I feel it is the key to unlocking his issues, better understanding them and helping him. While a diagnosis will make no difference to how I feel about my son, it will help me get the support he needs both at school and at home. For more information on autism, please visit the National Autistic Society UK page.