Highs and Lows
My daughter is almost six years old. She was diagnosed with Autism two years ago, and I recently came across a specific profile that explains her behavior: a subtype called Pathological Demand Avoidance, where any demand can register as a threat and trigger a fight, flight, or freeze response.
Her impulse to fight is the most frequent. Requests that she brush her teeth or come to dinner can provoke an aggressive, prolonged tantrum. I don’t turn my back on her when chopping onions for fear that I will cut myself if she headbutts me from behind. Even hunger or the need to use the bathroom are often perceived by her as debilitating demands.
Quarantine for COVID-19 has been immensely hard. School, the library, and the park are all closed, and her friends are no longer able to play. Her entire routine changed overnight. Each day brings unavoidable triggers, resulting in one tantrum after another.
Recently she attacked me several times before breakfast. Desperate for a moment to recover, I curled into a fetal position on my bedroom floor. My daughter happened by and, seeing me in an unexpected place, gave a hard kick to my kidney.
Later, she drew a portrait of the two of us smiling under a rainbow, surrounded by hearts and X’s and O’s. My daughter rescues seedlings growing in sidewalk cracks and puts out tiny pancakes for fairies. She dresses in tutus and dances to The Nutcracker around the house. She is a striking child, lean and muscular, clever and funny.
From the outside looking in, you might never know the turmoil my daughter experiences. I am emotionally hungover by the end of most days. I’ve never liked roller coasters, but I’m learning to ride one.
(This piece was originally published in the November 2020 edition of The Sun Magazine)