Methods of Self-Soothing
When Cody was younger he could become agitated at the drop of a hat. This usually led to an all-out tantrum. I tried many things to calm him. Back then, verbal communication did little because he could not communicate to me what had triggered his outburst. So if the trigger was not obvious to me I had no way of knowing what it was. Therefore, I couldn’t remove it.
Sometimes even when I knew what set his rage in motion it was too late for pre-emptive action. Loud noises were often the catalyst for a sudden occurrence of fury. But I couldn’t always prevent another driver from honking the horn, or another child from screaming, or accidentally dropping a metal pan on the floor. So damage control was essential.
If we were at home, and it was apparent what had precipitated Cody’s outburst, I could usually hold him on my lap in a bear hug and we would rock while I whispered assurances to him that all was well. It usually only took a few moments before he was ready to resume his day. But if the trigger was not apparent then I had a multi-step system, which I had developed over time by trial and error, to ascertain what the problem was and then provide a solution that would make the world right again.
Through experience I learned that self-injurious actions were most always brought on by anger and frustration with himself. Screaming and running and hiding were usually the result of something that frightened him. And lashing out at someone or something was an expression of anger with that person or object.
When it was a matter of self-anger or frustration, I found distraction to be a good tool. I would take him to another room and offer options of different activities to do. Listening to soft music was particularly effective.
A fearful situation was usually pretty easily rectified. If I saw what made him afraid then a visual demonstration of why he didn’t have to be afraid would work if his fear was unfounded. But if his fear was valid then removing the thing that caused the fear, such as a spider, would do the trick. However if it was unclear to me what caused the fear, then removing him from the area and using the rocking bear hug method would resolve the matter pretty quickly.
In the case of anger at another individual or object, separating Cody from the individual or putting the object up out of sight and sitting with him in a quiet area for a few minutes would usually work quite nicely.
These methods worked in public with a little planning ahead and some slight adaptations. For instance, if we went to the grocery store, making sure Cody was engaged in the shopping process was key to a smooth, uneventful trip. But if another child were to cause a ruckus then finding a quieter area of the store for a few minutes would work.
Cody is an adult now and he is able to express himself much easier than he could in his youth. And it’s much easier to alleviate building tensions now than in the past. But he still has times when unpleasant stimuli will cause agitation. Now, many times he takes care of the matter on his own.
Distraction is rarely a part of our comfort repertoire anymore since he’s able to at least tell me what will make him feel better even if he can’t tell me what made him feel bad right away. I don’t use the rocking bear hug method now but Cody will ask me to sit on the sofa so he can lay his head on my leg and have me lightly rub my hand over his hair. And now if he becomes angry with a person he knows to walk away, and most times he will put an object of anger up out of sight himself.
But these are just different versions of the same techniques I used when he was a child. Cody has just modified them according to his own abilities. I’m glad I was able to find these simple techniques worked back then, and very happy that they still work for Cody now.