It was just before Christmas last year that Freddie’s behaviour took a nosedive.
We’d been doing really well all summer, working to foster a sense of being a little bit independent, a little bit ‘grown-up’, by encouraging him to do as much for himself as he was capable of, and by showing him that we trusted him to ‘be a big boy’, to sit on a proper seat instead of a baby chair in cafes, and to walk more and use the buggy less.
Once he went back to school we had less chance to practice our new skills, but we were still pleased with his progress.
Then, three days before term was due to end, Freddie’s teacher rang me to say that there had been an outbreak of Slapcheek infection among the children, knowing that our paediatrician had advised that this could be potentially troublesome for Freddie because of his medical history.
We decided between us that it would be best if he remained off school for the last days of term.
Never mind, I thought, I can take him with me, it’ll be nice to have some company.
First stop was the supermarket. Freddie swore like a trooper up and down every single aisle.
What’s more, he seemed to take great delight in doing so, waiting until somebody passed close by before blurting out a profanity, then looking up at me smirking mischievously.
Clearly he was looking for a reaction, so I decided not to give him one, but to ignore the behaviour and brazen the whole thing out.
I didn’t notice too many dirty looks, so perhaps my fellow shoppers had decided the same, or, more likely, they weren’t taking any notice of us anyway.
It did occur to me that perhaps Freddie was aware that he was missing out on the Christmas party, and the fun and treats the other children would be enjoying at school, or, worse still, that he was sickening for something.
I decided to gloss over his language in the supermarket and take him for a little treat. We went into a nice cafe and ordered drinks and biscuits.
On this occasion I’d taken the buggy, as we had a lot of stuff to carry, and a long way to walk, but, as I had over the summer, I sat him on a ‘proper’ chair at the table.
I didn’t dare leave him to fetch napkins, and while I was rooting around in my bag for tissues, he threw his biscuit at the next table, then made a run for it.
I managed to grab him, but the buggy, laden with shopping, tipped over.
The people at the next table, recipients of Freddie’s flying biscuit, were very understanding.
They helped me right the buggy, and held it steady while I put a struggling Freddie into it; they brought napkins and helped me to mop up.
Whoever they were, I salute them now, and commend their behaviour to anyone who comes across a mum in that kind of situation.
Then Freddie announced that he needed the toilet. Abandoning what was left of the drinks, I wheeled him over to the accessible stall, but it was occupied.
He was getting more insistent, so, rather than chance waiting, I took him into the regular cubicle.
It was nearly impossible to manoeuvre the buggy in there, which made getting him on and off the toilet very difficult. He was lashing out, scratching my face the whole time.
Fortunately, no illness materialised over the Christmas break. Ever since then, though, his behaviour has often been difficult when we are out and about.
I noticed that he would flop and drop, particularly in big, busy stores, plonk himself down in the middle of the floor and refuse to get up. In the kind of shop where there is a greeter at the door, he would say ‘shut up, lady’ (or man), or swear as he went past.
He’s always indulged in quite a lot of attention-seeking behaviour, but now he would really ramp it up, or just be generally difficult and obnoxious.
Very rarely could we see any obvious trigger.
His teachers reported no problems at school. He was progressing well there, with no new behaviour issues. He was still capable of being a thoroughly charming little man at times.
Then, one day this summer I spotted a link someone had posted on Facebook to an article that concerned itself with addressing challenging behaviour in children with Down’s Syndrome.
It was an academic article so much of it went over my head. But one or two things struck a chord with me.
Children with Down’s Syndrome have a tendency to engage in certain kinds of challenging behaviour: this challenging behaviour serves two functions, either (1) to obtain something that they want, an item or an activity, or (2) to escape or avoid a situation or activity that they don’t want.
I began to ask myself whether Freddie is becoming anxious in certain situations.
Is his behaviour a way of demonstrating that anxiety, especially since at this stage in life he would struggle to put his emotions into words.
Was it also, perhaps, a way of trying to escape a place or situation that causes him distress?
But what could be making him so anxious about a trip to the shops or a cafe?
To be honest, I didn’t have to look very far to find the answer to this: anxiety runs in our family like a certain shape of nose might run in others (no pun intended).
Sensory sensitivity is not uncommon in our immediate family, either.
Although Freddie has never shown any pronounced sensory difficulties, perhaps he has slight ones that are magnified in certain environments, busy or unfamiliar ones, where he is bombarded with lots and lots of stimuli all at once?
I haven’t come to any firm conclusions yet, but I’m observing him closely for clues when we’re out and about.
I have noticed, for instance, that he seems better in his buggy. Does he feel sheltered in there, a bit safer?: I will have to make a point of noticing whether there is any difference in his demeanour according to whether or not the sun canopy is in place.
The last time we went to a restaurant, Freddie was well-behaved until the food came. Then he started spitting and trying to escape from the table.
I took him outside to calm down, but each time he settled and I tried to take him back inside, he swore as soon as we got to the door.
With hindsight, I played this all wrong. Daddy had ordered macaroni cheese for Freddie, because he likes pasta. The spitting and the escape attempts started after he tasted the food.
Freddie’s always been ambivalent about cheese. Perhaps the sauce was just too cheesy. All the food was pretty rank, to be honest.
Perhaps the spitting was a way both to get the food out of his mouth and to get out of eating it; perhaps that’s why he ran away, and I ended up chasing him behind the bar?
Maybe the reason he swore every time I tried to take him back inside was because he was afraid I was going to make him eat that bloody awful food?
He has certainly given me a few clues to be going on with.
I have the beginnings of a plan of action in mind, the rest will be formulated ‘on the hoof’ as the situation evolves.
This Christmas I am feeling optimistic that, with time and perseverance, I can help him to manage these issues.
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