It’s the first day of school after the Christmas break. The anxiety that has been simmering for the last two weeks, for me at least, becomes reality.
When faced with doing something that she doesn’t want to do, Aine can become physically violent. This is something that she has displayed at various levels over her life. It started as self-injurious, biting her arm during physio sessions. We bought bangles and chewy items to prevent the injury but nothing seemed to satisfy her the same as hurting herself. She would bite the therapist if they weren’t quick enough, but it was mainly herself. This progressed to head hitting and elbow banging, bending her arm and smashing her elbow hard onto a surface; table, wall, door. Less often she would bang her head on surfaces and also bend forward into a most envious forward fold yoga pose to bite hard on her knees.
It was easier to dodge when she was little and it was far easier to distract her. A game made her forget that she was being dressed or being made to take foul-tasting medicine or being made to contort her tight muscles into painful stretches, As she has grown, she has become more savvy. “This uniform means school and I don’t want to go there!” “This spoon means medicine and it tastes like feet!” And also the realisation that certain behaviours and words push certain buttons in care givers has developed. If I am failing to respond to a pinch or a scratch, a swift slap around the face gives the eye contact she wants.
With age comes physical growth and therefore strength. She will break the skin on her arms and her knees are always bruised. She has a patch of leathery skin on her wrist that no amount of celebrity endorsed moisturiser will soften. So onto the injuries to care givers; slaps, scratches, pinches, kicks. The occasional bite and harsh words. “I hate you!” “You little bitch!” It’s hard to hear. And the blood curdling screams she emits make it sound like we are pulling out teeth, not just trying to brush them.
I read an article recently about domestic abuse inflicted by children. The title seems ‘off’; we associate domestic abuse with adults in relationships. But if we were to be literal, it is infact applied correctly . Still, it doesn’t sit comfortably with me. A child abusing their parent. I can’t accept it because the intent isn’t the same. I read daily about the struggles families are having, how children with mental health issues and neurological disorders displaying violent and challenging behaviour are struggling, without effective external support. How parents are forced, in extreme cases, to call the police, having their children arrested, taken to cells or other family members in order to de-escalate the situation; knowing that it will be only a matter of time before the child is home without support and the situation occurs again. They will forget the incident for the time being, what else can they do? They love their child and it’s not their fault. They carry on with the parental remit, love and protect.
I don’t know the answer to their problems any more than I know the answer to our own but I do know that it is a real struggle, on a physical and emotional level and I do know that we shouldn’t keep quiet about it. It is happening and we shouldn’t be ashamed. It’s not about discipline or boundaries or respect. Our children have lost control because their brain is different and they are playing out their worries, fears and anxieties. Maybe the more we speak up, the more will be done to understand and support families, to help them stay strong and resilient. I can’t come up with a catchy “hashtag” slogan, that’s not my forte. My real fear is that in the financial climate we live, this isn’t going to happen anytime soon.
So to my fellow “VCB” families, school is in session, it’s time to breathe out! Same time, same place tomorrow.