My son is becoming increasingly distressed by certain situations and I’m really struggling with how best to support him. He’s 3, has mild ASD, and is very verbal. He’ll be totally fine, and then someone talks to him or to me, or I talk to someone, and it’s almost a meltdown. I’m sure to most people it looks like he just wants my undivided attention, but it doesn’t feel like that at all. It feels like genuine distress, but I can’t pinpoint if it’s sensory, or anxiety, or a loss of control, or all of the above, and especially I don’t know how to help.
The grocery store checkout person asks him how old he is. He screams “No,” or just yells with no words, then says to me with great distress, “I don’t want that person to ask me how old I am.” And often he’ll bring it up again hours or days later, about how much he didn’t like it or how sad it made him.
While picking him up at daycare, I ask our daycare provider about her day. Wordless yell and/or loud, distressed voice: “Mommy mommy why did you ask Ms. X about her day?” And then later, “I didn’t like it when you did that.”
Someone at the playground will say something to me about the weather. Same yell/distressed voice: “I didn’t like that when that person said it was a sunny day.”
This is often accompanied by physical meltdown stuff – kicking on the floor, grabbing or pushing me.
When he initiates an interaction with someone, he’s totally fine and happy about it and keeps it going with several exchanges.
I’ve tried preparation/social stories, and he seems to be on board, but then can’t implement it in the moment. I’ve tried asking him to respond together and helping him figure out what to say, thinking maybe he wants to be part of it but doesn’t know how. I’ve always try to empathize with his feelings, and sometimes also try letting him know we need to be respectful. I’ve suggested he say he doesn’t feel like talking right now. I’ve tried redirecting/distracting. I’ve tried reminding him to remember how much I love him if he starts to get upset. I’ve tried helping him say something “first,” before the other person starts talking. I’ve tried these not once, but many times. Some have helped once or twice, but never continue. And no matter how I answer when he asks why I said something, his response is that he didn’t like it or it made him sad.
Maybe this is just a phase he’ll grow out of, but it’s significant enough that it hurts people’s feelings a little, and definitely painful for him, and I just feel like there’s more I could be doing to help him feel OK when these things happen.
As always, thanks for helping me sort through all this.