Quick background--- I'm not a huge fan of labels, but they can be helpful in establishing the groundwork. Since he was 4, DS has had a number of diagnoses... PPD-NOS, sensory integration disorder, giftedness, Asperger's, etc. His dad has Asperger's and in many ways it seems the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. In short, he's an incredibly bright, high-functioning kid. I've put a lot of effort into helping him, including a few years of homeschooling, and unless parents know "the look" (you know what I mean--- something in the eyes!) most people don't know he's in the spectrum.
At 9, I can say I'm really proud of how far we've come. I've had to be a much stricter parent than I ever imagined, combining some hard and fast boundaries with an understanding of where his reactions come from. (Also, we had a couple years of just avoiding restaurants and stores. That sucked, but there's something to be said for picking your battles.) We still have challenges with tantrums, and I'm often at a loss. I know the root causes: overstimulation, not understanding that he's crossing people's comfort zone/boundaries, "blocking out" and "shutting down," or moving from one thing to another without adequate transition (lord help us all if he needs to stop reading a book or playing a game and come to dinner... 20 minutes of 5-minute warnings is sometimes not enough). I try to remind myself that his logic works incredibly differently, but this is a huge struggle. I'll put the anecdote in blue so you can skip it if you want.
My challenge is maintaining consistency when I know I'll meet resistance. This weekend, in a flash, resistance exploded into full-blown snow-ball tantrum. One thing led to another, and it got worse and worse. We went on a hike, at the end of which there is a tea garden (sounds like good motivation, right?) The kids had chosen to each carry a pack of things with them, and we usually have an "if you bring it, you carry it" rule. But as they wanted to run a bit ahead, (staying within our sight), we offered to hold their things so that they could explore unhindered. DS gave me his satchel and coat. At a certain point we came upon them in the midst of an argument. DS was provocatively (and unsafely) blocking his sister from crossing a footbridge with his body. DD was wailing and pitching her tiny self against him, and if anything he seemed pretty pleased that he was able to simultaneously withstand her assault *and* cause her distress as well. (I can see the perverse humor present in many 9 year old boys here.) My DH called, "Stop! Please move now!" as we approached. (Our rule is we only have to ask once.) DD noticed we were there and stopped trying to push her brother out of the way, but DS continued to block the bridge so that no one could cross. I said, "Right. You're going to walk with us now, and that means carrying your own things." DS started to protest, and say that he would not carry his coat when I held it out to him, so I very calmly draped it on the railing and moved on. He grabbed it and took off after me, trying to forcibly put it back within my arms. (He's incredibly strong.) The scene was so hectic that I couldn't even address that what he had done had made his sister upset, and that it wasn't safe or considerate. I tried to have a "choices" conversation with him, and assure him that if he could walk with us for a bit he would be free to meet up with his sister again and we would take his stuff. Never happened. Couldn't even talk with him. He repeatedly screamed as loud as possible so as not to have to listen, and tried to open my arms or drape the coat on my shoulders. I told him that I was going to walk by myself, as he was not respecting my body, and that we would talk about it when he was in control. He ran after me and began hitting me with his coat, flinging it over his head and swapping me with it. (Obviously, being in the middle of a meadow, this meant that the coat got covered in cow patties and we did as well. But we didn't find that out until we sat down a bit later for lunch.) He became very physically and verbally aggressive, blaming me for ruining his day (responsibility is a challenge for him) and for being the worst mom, etc.
When we sat down to have a break (I figured the only solution to the twenty-minute screaming episode was for us to all regroup, have some lunch, and calm down) I noticed cow poop on my coat, and by extension all over DS's coat and shirt. FACEPALM. This, needless to say, escalated the freakout. I cleaned my coat and then gave him a wet cloth napkin to clean his off, and he refused. Instead he began shivering and hyperventilating and sobbing, determined that he couldn't clean it properly (he hadn't really tried) and that even if he could, he was too cold to do so. I recognized that I was too frustrated to speak to him calmly at this point and chose to eat my sandwich away from the group on the far side of the hill in order to clear my head, ignoring all the other nearby hikers who had (presumably) thought to enjoy a sunny day out without the added excitement of a raving kid nearby. I could hear him ranting and sobbing the entire time, and after calming down I was able to find some sympathy for DS (even if he wouldn't admit that it was his fault, a poop-covered coat on a cold day is pretty lame. For a kid who sometimes constantly washes his hands, that can be a pretty distressing development). I explained that we had a bit more to go until we reached a place where we could probably clean it, but that he could wash his hands and eat a sandwich and we could continue on our walk until we got there. He continued to whine as we walked and repeat that I had ruined his day, that I was hateful and stodgy, etc etc. It was almost as if saying these things out loud allowed him to shut down having to listen to anything else, including his own instinct to ask for a hug or similar, because it was impossible to talk to him and calm him down. When we finally arrived at the tea garden, I took him to the bathroom and helped him clean his coat and he was fine. He was very helpful picking out a table and offering to move chairs and making sure nobody's eyes were in the sun--- as if nothing had happened and we hadn't just witnessed an hour-long meltdown.
In hindsight I know the only thing I could have done would have been at the very first instance of seeing the kids on the bridge. If I could go back in time I would have stopped my DH shouting for him to stop, because calling DS from far away is really ineffective. I would have run ahead and put myself between them, allowing everyone to cool down before we even left the bridge. They were both in such a flow of energy and outdoor excitement that I'm not sure I could have done more than just delayed another confrontation between them, however.
In the midst of a meltdown, trying to talk to DD is pretty futile. Usually he is given the chance to go somewhere else and get control (voluntarily or otherwise), but in the middle of a hike there aren't the same opportunities as at home. Also, I can talk about consequences for actions until I'm blue in the face, but because DD doesn't understand causality and responsibility in the same way that neurotypical people do, it's pretty much a lost cause. And even though the disrespectful way he was talking to me might have made a whap on the bottom pretty tempting, I'm really not a spanking parent. One day, my kids will be too old to spank--- I'd rather they grow up equipped with the tools to make good choices instead of remembering me whapping them when they messed up. (On top of which, Asperger's kids are so literal... there's no way to maintain a double standard of "I get to hit you, but you can't hit others").
Sorry this is so long--- anyone with preteens/teenagers who has lived through figuring this out? We are so far ahead of where we were five years ago, but these meltdowns are like forces of nature.