Autism from a mama who has been there. I am hoping to post every day this month. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments.
Besides being a triple score in Scattergories, it was also a critical tool in taking my son’s mental wellness temperature. It probably won’t be a belly-button, but with observation, you will find your child’s barometer.
I believe that putting his finger in his belly-button started as a simple coping mechanism, stimming. As a toddler is was cute, inoffensive, and initially harmless.
It didn’t take long to realize that I could monitor this activity and use it as a gauge. When my son was calm and at ease, no fingers. One finger, he was still doing pretty well. Two fingers, I would look for the triggers and try to mitigate or redirect. Three or more fingers and I would need to remove him from the situation immediately or face the music. And by music I mean, melt-down of epic proportions.
I can’t tell you how helpful this physical sign was to all of us. The older kids could even let me know how he was doing when I was engaged in other activities that took my attention elsewhere. It also helped me recognize triggers. When the fingers headed toward the belly-button, I could think back and ask myself, “what just happened that could have precipitated this stress response.”
As a warning, even innocent stimming can turn into self-harm when repeated too forcefully or too often.
Case in point, a diagnosis of thrush, an infection in the mouth, on a Friday, seemed like perfect timing to break him of his pacifier. There was nothing on the calendar; it would be a calm, quiet weekend. Well, it was not quiet at all that weekend.
I was waiting outside the BX (military department store) early Monday morning with my screaming toddler. I opened the package and popped that “plug” in his mouth before I even paid for it and about a dozen more. Then I headed to the Acute Care Clinic. Over the weekend, he had ulcerated his belly-button in his distress.
Breaking him of the pacifier wasn’t happening while his belly-button healed. We had to take drastic measures. We wrapped an ace bandage around his middle to keep his hands away from the gauze packing and give his body time to heal. A cup of bleach on the counter kept the pacifiers sterilized. The minute one left his mouth; it went into the cup. A sterile one was rinsed off and given. After he finished the medication for thrush, I purchased a dozen new pacifiers and threw away all the old ones. It took a few weeks for his belly-button to heal; he had a tough time leaving it alone. I rocked him to sleep many nights.
This event did lead to a decrease in his belly-button stimming but a more substantial reliance on his pacifier. I had to find a new barometer. The more forcefully he sucked on his plug, the more stressed he was. He also started to furrow his brows. Change is the only constant in life.
Celebrate the small stuff. Be flexible. Laugh.