In late April of 2011, I was in the middle of a huge job transition that had me traveling all over the country. For this particular trip, I flew back from Houston to Findlay on April 28th. At about 4:00 PM, I walked in the door and plopped down on the couch. Amber and Cailyn were sleeping, so I decided to get on the computer. I was only on for a few minutes before Amber got up and came into the living room.
“Honey, my water just broke.”
Our lives would never be the same after Dalton came on the early morning hours of April 29th. His biggest immediate impact within the context of “Cailyn’s Story” was as the cherry on top of a mountain of changes to her routine.
Structure and consistency had been the bonds tenuously holding everything together through Cailyn’s therapy. Children with Autism thrive on routine, because even small changes can overwhelm them with new senses and apprehensions. We found that, in order to teach Cailyn new things, we needed to keep everything else consistent. Otherwise, the wheels fell off the cart.
Apparently, my absence had already strained her to an extent. Then, while we were in the hospital her grandma and grandpa Buena watched her. Time with grandparents means fun, eating out, watching videos, and basically having your way. There is a universal rule about no crying on a grandma’s watch. There is also no structure, no discipline, and no therapy.
On the morning of April 30th, I hadn’t slept much. Amber was feeling bad and we just had a newborn baby. I decided to unwind by taking a shower in my own house for the first time in over a week. Cailyn had really acted out at the hospital the previous night, so I decided that I’d do some therapy with her while I was there.
Things were different from the start. Even some of the skills she had mastered now brought out tears. We usually introduced these easy tasks early to give her confidence, or to calm her down between more difficult activities. Now, she wouldn’t even clap or wave. She was rebelling.
She became increasingly upset and violent. She’d scream and bite herself when I asked her to sit and wait and hit herself in the face or bang her head against the table when I tried to get her to imitate an action. For a nonverbal child, this was her way to express that she missed me, while I was gone. I had been the source of all these uncomfortable changes and she wasn’t about to let me just waltz back in and try to take control.
As we got into the second hour of therapy, we were both exhausted. She was failing every trial while physically harming herself and emotionally destroying me in the process. I think she knew I was on the ropes. The next bite and subsequent scream was blood curdling. I couldn’t take it anymore.
“Cailyn!” I yelled, as I held her arms to her side. “Arms down! Do not bite!”
I bent down and put my hands to the sides of her eyes, tunneling them straight to mine. I knew she didn’t understand, but I needed her to be engaged in my monologue.
“Look at my eyes, Cailyn. I know this is hard and I know you are mad at me. We just have to get through this.” I was breaking down at the end and we went from eye contact, straight into me holding her. She was sniffling a lot and began to move her head down. I thought she was going to wipe her nose on my shirt (this happens a lot and I’m way past caring). Instead she lunged and bit straight into my chest. I literally jumped up, in a complete state of shock. I lifted my shirt and saw I was bleeding.
Not much else was said between her and I, as we took the short trip back to the hospital. I began winding down side streets, hoping that a little extra time would wipe that transparent look from my face. I was absolutely overwhelmed by the thought that this was our first morning with two children and that I may have just tasted the beginning of our new life.
I’m not really big into verbal discussions with God. It just isn’t my nature. On this day, I made an exception. I was too upset to be profound. I just remember repeating the same phrase over and over, at varying volumes to ensure He had my speakers at the proper level.
I walked back into the hospital room with Cailyn and turned to Amber. My eyes met hers and started to water, immediately. I could only muster the composure to whisper my phrase of the day, before turning into the restroom to get away from the crowd in the room.
“I can’t handle this anymore.”