For reasons none of us really understand, J-Man has been totally freaking out about stairs of late. He used to go up and down with little help and no worries. He’d hold on to the rail with both hands or with one hand on the rail and the other on us, but he’d do it without any real issues. We have fairly steep steps to the upstairs of our house, and he climbed them without much problem beyond being a little wobbly about it.
Then out of the blue about a week ago, he started melting down whenever we wanted him to go up or down stairs. The two steps to our garage remained doable even if not a calm experience, but anything from the four or five stairs at preschool to the dozen steps to our upstairs might as well have been Everest or jumping out of an airplane. We still can’t figure out why.
At first we wondered if it was just a cranky, almost three-year-old, stubbornness thing, but his behavior is more of terror than just being a toddler. We constantly have to read the behavioral tea leaves because he’s not really verbal. I think we’re right in saying that something is way off inside him.
We talked at length to his occupational therapist about whether something sensorially was short circuiting in him. He has been very sensory-seeking lately, which is usually a sign something is up. He’s been burrowing under pillows, us, or anything else that he can wedge himself in. He’s been rubbing his head on the carpet and doing his downward-facing dog yoga thing he came up with on his own. (He’s insanely flexible.) He’s also way more into his brushing (best picture I could find) than he’s ever been.
We think he also could be having sinus problems that are throwing off his sense of balance (vestibular), which has always been a struggle for him. I don’t know.
This has been a really depressing setback for us. It’s the age-old struggle of when do you ‘give in’ and when do you stick it out regardless of how long it takes. There will be setbacks, but there’s also a sense that ‘lost’ skills take forever to reclaim. With an autistic toddler, ‘giving in’ is a very complex concept. In the midst of a massive meltdown, persistence isn’t necessarily a virtue. Taking a hard line and getting results assumes a level of understanding in your child that isn’t always there in the middle of one of these meltdowns, or in some cases isn’t there in general.
Last night we tried the ‘you’re going to do go down these steps regardless, but we’ll try to make it less stressful’ method. We had once before managed to entice him to take a few steps by using a couple of his favorite wooden blocks as a carrot. That didn’t work last night, but I read him his favorite book while he was on the steps and he slowly worked his way toward me. It took like 10 minutes to cover 12 steps, but it’s better than it has been. I’m not above trying to use carrots and distractions if it means he still accomplishes the goal. A win is a win.
We don’t always know why they do what they do, so you just keep trying the best you can. It’s like playing 20 Questions (or 100 Questions) many days, but you just keep at it. I tried shouting “I think I can!” at him on the steps. I guess that’s worth saying to myself as well.