A further explanation of my son’s journey with music and how it relates to his sensory issues is described http://www.spdbloggernetwork.com/2011/09/29/sensory-issues-in-a-musician/ at my guest post on SPD blogger. (YAY me!) The meltdown is mentioned there but I wanted to explain further here.
These groups are outside of school and are very competitive to get into it. At age 11 he was one of the youngest members in a local youth music group (group 1) and had been in that group for two years when he decided to try out for group 2. He had made a mistake when he tried out for group 2 and he was absolutely devastated and depressed for days. It was months later when we received the letter that he got in. He was absolutely elated to get in.
This was last year and he decided to be in group 1 and group 2 and we did everything we could to be supportive. We had never told any of the conductors about any of his diagnoses or any behavior issues. In all of his years in music he had never had a meltdown or any behavior issues and I didn’t want him to treat him differently because we have been a victim to that in the past. Also he was not diagnosed with Asperger’s at the time but as everyone agreed ADHD and Depression/Anxiety did not fully explain his behavior. It is not that Asperger’s gives him an excuse but it can just let adults that are working with him understand that he may shut down and how to respond when he does.
He was in group 2 for about 6 months. In that time period he seemed to struggle with having morning rehearsals but overall he did well. We were all very proud of him and he performed at Severance Hall with the group twice.
In the weeks leading up to that morning he had been sick quite a bit. Now we know he was having airflow issues related to his tonsils and this probably all contributed to that fateful morning.
On the morning of the meltdown he said he felt fine and he did not tell me that he had any issues. In fact he seemed excited to go that morning. There is a hallway outside the rehearsal room where all the parents that stay pack in on top of each other. That was where I was sitting because even though he never had any issues I never felt comfortable leaving.
As I sat out in the hallway I heard the group singing and I thought “oh crap” he hates singing. I went in to check on him. The whole group was standing up in a back corner of the room singing but he is sitting in his chair with his head down. I approached him and asked if he wanted to leave. He kept his head down and shook his head no. Soon the group stopped singing and came back to their seats. Before I could say anything the conductor looked at me and said that he needed to participate or leave. I started to explain that he needed some time to just calm down. The conductor apparently was very aggravated by him putting his head down and kind of barked at me that it was fine if he needed time but he needed to leave. Before I could say anything my son screamed “F@CK YOU, YOU”RE AN ASSHOLE” and put his head back down. How I remained calm I will never know. The conductor was stunned and just looked at me. I just said “Please, he just needs time to calm down right here and then we will leave”
The conductor starts rehearsal back up with me standing behind my son in this room full of all of these high school kids. It was not a fun time for me and I can imagine it was worse for my son. Finally I convince my son to leave and he left quite angrily. We get out in the hallway and he continues to storm out the door where I watch him through a window sit down in the snow right outside the building so I knew he was “okay”.
I was shaking and about to have my own meltdown as I was trying to get my stuff together. All of the parents, of course, were staring at me with their mouths wide opened and looking at me like I was the worst parent in the world. I wanted to crawl in a hole. The woman sitting next to me says “It’s going to be okay” (God bless her whoever she is). I said “I don’t think so” She said “I have been there and I promise it is going to be okay.” I had no idea what to say. I hope I said Thank you but I really don’t remember. He wasn’t diagnosed and I hadn’t found this wonderful online community and I just felt so alone in that moment.
I went outside to wait until he was ready to leave. He just sat in the snow crying and the conductor came out to talk to me. As soon as he walked out I said I was sorry but he has ADHD and anxiety. He said he wished he had known. Well yes I should have said something but he had never melted at anything like this and actually he hadn’t had any meltdowns anywhere all school year so really didn’t see it coming. And really, diagnosis or not, when a kid has his head down and is not responding isn’t space a good idea?
At this point the conductor is now relatively nice and exchanges phone numbers with me and returns inside. I finally get my son to get up and walk to the car. He of course sobs during the entire very long drive home. I was pretty close to sobbing too but I had to drive and I kept thinking about what that woman said to me.
In the following days I spoke to that conductor and the lead conductor for the group. They both told me that this hadn’t happened in 20 years. (Now I wonder how many times it will happen with the increase in Autism) They told me that he would need to take a couple of weeks off but was welcome to return after that. They told me he got into the group because he is a gifted musician and he would always be welcome back. The lead conductor called me and we discussed that he would not return. I actually had a very nice discussion with him and he shared with me that his wife teaches special needs kids and he understood that kids like my son become overwhelmed with emotion and then they meltdown. He again said he would be welcome back next year if he decided to return.
We didn’t go back the following year (this year). I hope that my son will go back to a music group next year, even if he only goes back to Group 1.