Monday, January 15, 2018

The Heartbreak of Aggression

I met an extremely nice couple yesterday, and after talking with them a while I came to realize that they too have a child with special needs.  I'm not sure whether there are so many special needs parents out there that I just can't help but to run into them, or if somehow it is planned for me to just be in the right place at the right time.  Either way I'm very blessed to meet so many people that share similar stories.

Unfortunately that means we also share some of the same heartbreaks.  In this case we shared stories of how aggression can systematically pull a parent to pieces.  After all, we love our children....we want them to be happy.  And we also want them to love us in return.  And yet so often, with children on the autism spectrum especially, it doesn't work out the way we hope that it will.  Our children have difficulty expressing emotions and affection can be extremely hard to come by.  On the flip side, aggression can come from an inner turmoil, chemical imbalance, seasonal change, seizure activity, communication difficulty, and so many more other factors that we don't understand WHY it happens.

Parents who have experienced this (or children having the same issues with parents being stricken with dementia) receive lots and lots of well-meaning advice.  Don't take it personally they say.  You just need to put your foot down with him they say.  You need to stop spoiling her they say.  People will even suggest being aggressive in return to somehow teach them a lesson.  Sadly, we already feel helpless and inadequate and while these suggestions may come from a place of good intentions, they are the same as telling us we aren't doing everything we should do.  What they don't understand is that we spend our time either dealing with aggression, or waiting with terrible anxiety for the next violent outburst.

I watched my wife have her feelings slowly pulled apart when Tyler would become aggressive with her.  Nobody in the world could ever love him as much as she does, and yet over and over she would feel he rejected her.  He would pinch her, hit her forearms until they would bruise, kick her shins, and scratch her.  While probably not a single strike was enough to physically break a bone, each one would shatter a piece of her heart.  And while I rarely ever had any aggression pointed in my direction, when her heart broke mine did too.  My heart actually broke for them both.  My wife deserved so much more, and my son deserved the capacity to give more.  

Today because of his living situation, some medicine adjustments, and some maturity, Tyler has a lower level of aggression.  It is not gone, nor I doubt will it ever be, but he does not feel that urge as often.  For a long time now Robin has been able to spend a few minutes with him at church, or an hour at a restaurant, and enjoy his company.  With each smile, laugh, kiss, and hug, there is a small bit of healing. It will never undo what the many years of hardship have done, but every good interaction makes the bad times seem much further in the past.  

I wish I had some fancy words of advice about parenting through aggression, but I can offer very little.  I can say that I've been there and that I understand.  But I can also say that there is always hope and we cannot forget that.  On one hand we cannot allow ourselves to be victims or punching bags, and on the other hand we understand that we are not the only victims in the situation because our children do not want this either.  We do have to strive to do everything we can to understand it, to utilize therapies and medicines, to protect ourselves, and to seek all of the help we can get our hands on.  We cannot simply treat it as a "fact of life", but rather it should be treated as a fire that must be contained.

Be well and God bless.    Tom 

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