We recently moved house and changes are not usually met well in our household, let alone life-affecting moves. People tell you that moving house is one of the most stressful things a person can go through, but we went through this when our latest addition was two weeks old. So, not only did we have a house move (leaving behind a known place of safety), but we also were introduced to a new family member. Two big changes and a period of unsettlement and we may have just about survived the storm. However, after many curious questions, one is taking first position from my troubled PDA child – how will Father Christmas get down our chimney?
“Mummy, what are those things sticking out the chimney?”
“They’re called chimney pots.”
“What are they for? They look ugly!” (everything and everybody is ugly at the moment). “They will get in the way… how do Father Christmas get down the chimney?”
I could sense her anxiety bubbling, “It’s ok darling, he will still come to our new house.”
“But how can he mum, he won’t squeeze through!”
I briefly explained at this point that he would use some magic Christmas dust to get himself through, and if that fails, then he will use a magic key just like he did in our old flat. We didn’t have a chimney then, but she didn’t worry about it. I suppose it was a given that he came as she knew he had been before and it felt safe.
“I do like my new house Mummy, but I miss my old flat.”
I knew exactly how she was feeling, I did too, the security and the smell of something safe; something known.
Dealing with change is so difficult, but for a child facing so many challenges at once it must feel debilitating. She articulated her emotions fantastically. She can talk about her feelings to the point that I think, wow, she’s so grown up, so intelligent. To the point that I assume she can manage her emotions, but this is the part she finds impossible.
PDA children can identify emotions – often the contradiction to their ASD. After all, it’s not the expectation that an autistic child can discuss feelings and recognise emotions on faces. With PDA, this is often quite the opposite and they can be experts at it – many parents will tell you they have a knack of identifying staff or professionals who really don’t get them.
What they often have difficulty with is empathising and understanding how those emotions might feel for somebody else – being unable to imagine how it feels is the tricky part.
Parents, friends, family and professionals have all said to me in the past, “Autistic? No way, I don’t think she’s autistic, she makes eye contact, she loves playing with other kids, she can be charming etc” Yet, as parents we know something is there. Some kind of difference we can gauge but are truly unable to identify. It seems there is some gap in their learning which usual strategies can’t fix. We can tell them off, “you’ve just hit that child, you’ve lost 5 minutes play,” but regardless of being consistent every single time, our child still does it. The child can’t empathise with their peer as to how they are feeling when they hurt them. So to be punished afterwards for something they can’t comprehend just adds fuel to the fire.
Back to our situation with moving house and having a new sibling to contend with, it is no wonder then that her behaviour is all over the place. We all get strong feelings when changes happen, but we forget that our PDA child may still need a great deal of support to process those emotions.
All I can do, is calm and reassure her until she gets used to the changes. I will have to nurture and guide her (as well as Santa) to find an alternative route down our chimney.