Kiddos on the spectrum process emotion differently than us neurotypicals.
“Duh,” you might say. And I would agree, but sometimes I forget how deeply this runs through my own kiddo.
Last week, I got notification from Fantastic Babysitter that they were most likely going to have to put their kitty down. She was getting old and not feeling well, and not getting any better, and she was worried about The Boy. I was too, because sometimes the death of an animal seems to hit him harder than the death of a human being, which is typical for those on the spectrum (“kitty” was his first word, after all).
I approached the subject with him and let him know that the kitty in question would probably be going to kitty heaven soon. He asked why, and I explained that as animals and humans get older, their bodies fail them, and they start to get sick. Sometimes, when animals get so sick, we put them to sleep so they can go play and run and chase mice with their friends in kitty heaven. We talked about how it would be cool for Fantastic Babysitter’s kitty to go play with our old kitties in heaven, and that she would be happy there. He had some questions, and I answered them to the best of my ability. He seemed a bit bothered, but also seemed to handle it with grace.
I reassured Fantastic Babysitter that The Boy was ok, and we were sad for her. It’s never easy to let a pet go, but we had been through it a couple of times, so it shouldn’t be too Earth-shattering for The Boy.
And everything seemed ok.
But then, some other things went wrong in The Boy’s world last week, and the death of the kitty seemed to come back up to the surface and tip the scales, sending him off the edge. You see, taken by itself, the absence of his friend-who-is-a-girl on Friday would have been upsetting, but not on-the-verge-of-a-meltdown all weekend. But add the death of the kitty (which obviously affected him more than I could tell on the surface), and it gets to be too much to process.
Everyone is leaving him, he thought.
And for a kid that actually has been left behind by a parent, any dumba** could see the potential for meltdown.
I’m glad I have enough perspective to be able to understand in hindsight what contributes to his frame of mind. Maybe someday I’ll be able to predict a bit better to help him head off some of these catastrophic feelings.
Always a process, always learning.