I sat down next to my four year old daughter and watched as she colored the birds different shades of blue. I smiled as she switched up the color mid bird, and then gently told her “Try and color inside the lines.” She looked up at me, smiled, and with exaggerated motions continued to color outside the lines. I huffed a little, but then thought to myself, it’s not my project. Later I analyzed that memory to death (I tend to do that quite frequently). Why did I have such a visceral reaction to her coloring outside the line? I shivered as the sounds of fingernails on a chalkboard (figuratively thank goodness) resounded in my head with each of her crayon strokes. I asked myself, why? Why did it bother me so much? Why did I have these perimeters set for my four year old daughters art?
At the same time, in a room at the other side of the building, my six year old son spent an hour with his home-bound teacher working on writing the numbers 1-50. He earnestly jotted down several numbers and then he would start a conversation about that particular number. The next number he would write backwards, and try to draw a line connecting it to another number previously written. She gently redirected him. “Write the number 15, you can draw lines later.” She wanted him to “color between the lines.”
Two weeks previously my husband and I decided to pull him out of the regular school setting. My beautiful, creative, snugly boy on the Autism Spectrum struggled with maintaining his emotions. Each day his behavior escalated. Thursday his Occupational Therapist came to work on his sensory issues, but he wasn’t ready to stop reading. He told her, “No, I don’t want to go.” They cajoled him out the door, at which point he put his foot down. “No, I don’t want to go.” He persisted. “Make the right choice!” they gently reminded him, at which point he cried, screamed, bit his therapist twice on the hand, hit, kicked, lunged at her and his aide. Then came the principal to the rescue. She dove into the fray with her lovely dangly earrings tempting my son mid meltdown. Yup, you guessed it. “Your son tried to rip my earrings out of my ears.” As I read the incident report sent home over 24 hours after the meltdown I mentally thought to myself, “Why would you go near an out of control, aggressive six year old – he may be INCREDIBLY tiny, but he is one strong little boy. You’re asking for trouble with dangly earrings!” I kept my cool, though.
Three school days, and several escalated events, later I am in tears watching my son rock himself on the ground after he almost kicked another child, hitting me several times (because he wanted DADDY to pick him up after school), and the principal telling the after school care manager “Tell mom that he is her problem now.” I wanted to scream “My son isn’t a problem, he is a child in crisis.” To this day I still can’t remember how I finally got him calm enough to climb into the car.
That same night he decided he wanted to stay up. ALL NIGHT LONG! Finally, by 2:00 in the morning he had jumped up and down on his sister waking her up, done somersaults on the couch, several “tag your it’s” between my husband and I, I lie on the floor in front of his door. He is in complete meltdown mode. I pull up a blanket and through his shrill cry tell him, “You can stay up all night, Mommy is going to sleep.” He reached over me and attempted to open the door. I lay there silently, tears once again streaming down my face. How can I help him? If he would just lie down and go to sleep he would feel better. He would calm down. Why can’t he just calm down? I want him to “color in between the lines” with his emotions, but at that moment he just couldn’t. Minutes crept by, the sobbing eased to tears, and a deep sigh. He finally grabbed his blanket and snuggled up next to me. I kissed his forehead. He kissed mine. Within seconds he was asleep.
The next day I made the tremendous decision to take a leave of absence from work, and requested that he be placed on home-bound so that we could work on getting him emotionally stable. I came to the conclusion that a full day of school was emotionally taxing my little boy to his limits. It was affecting his school work, his friends, his teachers, and his older brother and younger sister (okay, Mom and Dad too!)
That day I decided that we as a family were going to begin to color outside the lines. It took several months for my son to finally regulate his emotions, and it wasn’t until January that he went back to school full time in a self-contained classroom setting. He now pushes into regular education for math and group educational experiences (as long as he can manage it). We began to find activities that meet my son’s particular sensory needs, and these will bless my younger daughter in her thirst for knowledge and growth. We are learning to color outside the lines in all aspects of our life. It is an interesting journey, one that I hope others will enjoy following along.