Monday, May 21, 2012

It's A Seasonal Thing

Hiking in March...Ethan in the beloved red jacket
I've always thought that I had a little touch of what they call SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder. While I don't sink into a major depression as the days grow shorter and winter settles in, I do tend to feel a little melancholy from the time the leaves fall off the trees and baseball ends until about, oh, the Macy's Thanksgiving parade. Having more lights on at home during those evenings that come so quickly has seemed to help.

On the flip side, when spring comes, I'm bursting with energy. I'm up with the sun, even if that means 5:30 a.m. I'm ready to tackle projects and practically burst on the first warm spring day or on the Red Sox opening day, whichever comes first. On summer I ride the high, just as in January and February I try to weather out the storm of a winter that seems as if it will.never.end.

For awhile I'd heard people talk about how their kids with autism were affected by the seasons. Many people I know with kiddos on the spectrum talk about how spring and fall are difficult...about regression...about their children being more uncooperative and just not happy about all the change going on.

I'd never really thought about this in relation to Ethan until he started talking about it. Thankfully, he has not been a child who majorly regresses, but we have noticed little blips here and there, more struggles and more "off" behaviors, often in the spring.

A New England spring is such a tease. This spring has been particularly bad -- 70 degrees in February followed by snow and freezing temperatures in March. Weeks of sun followed by weeks of rain. I started wondering last month what month we really were in: Was it July? Or February?

Ethan has felt the yo-yo affect. "Do I wear my summer jammies or winter jammies?" he asks every night. Just when he gets used to one pair it's back to the other type.

"Why am I wearing short sleeves?" he asks after weeks back in the winter clothes. Or conversely, "I want to wear shorts. Why am I wearing pants this time?"

Then there is his spring jacket. He didn't wear it for a few weeks, but then we had to go back to it. Suddenly when the weather got warm again, he didn't want to give the jacket up: as in, he wanted to keep it on in class. The next day despite the not-so-warm weather I decided to send him to school without a coat. He reluctantly left his little red jacket behind, but he didn't forget about it.

This morning, forlornly, he informed me that, "Sometime I will get to wear my red jacket again."

In that moment, in a flash, I saw. I saw how confusing this must be for a child who lives and understands his world by memorizing the rules, by commiting to memory what they tell him in preschool. ("These are the things we wear in the winter. These are the things we wear in the summer.")

Even the light is baffling. "I CAN'T go to bed," he will tell me. "It's still light outside. Why is it still light outside?"

I remember myself as a child staring out at bigger kids on the street, playing in broad daylight although it was past 8 p.m., and how strange and unsettling that seemed, even to me.

Time changes...temperature changes...and now we are heading into school changes as the year winds down. Not only does the cycle move on but around here does so in a frustratingly unpredictable manner.

Is it any wonder kids on the spectrum struggle so much at these times?

When I think of that way, I feel profoundly grateful that right now Ethan's primary struggle is keeping that little jacket on even as he sweats through it...or insisting on wearing sandals...or stamping his foot at the thought of long sleeves.

He's protesting in his own little way to order his world, the way I turn on all the lights in early November; think of vacations in warm places; snuggle under the covers and try to embrace the half-remembered smell of the heat turning back on for the first time.

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