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How to…Survive the Smearing (Morning with School Edition)

  • Posted on March 7, 2012 at 8:00 AM

I’m trying a new theme this month.  One thing I write as a professional is how-to pieces, and considering the number of times I’ve been asked “How do you do it” in reference to raising three children with autism, I thought maybe a “How to…” theme would be a better fit than a music theme.

So, as the mother of three children with autism, I have to admit one of the hardest things to cope with, for me, was the smearing of feces.  It has been, by far, the most disgusting aspect of my children’s childhood.  To wake up in the morning, ready for the rush of getting the kids on the school bus, and to peek into one of the boys’ rooms…

The first thing that hits is the smell.  When one of the boys starts the morning off with a stinky diaper, that’s bad enough, but when the contents of that diaper is smeared across the walls, rubbed into the carpet, and worn like war paint, then the smell fills the room, hitting me as soon as I open the door with near-physical force.  My gag reflex kicks in almost immediately.  If I’m not careful, I’ll throw up.

It’s important to set priorities.  Cleaning the mess is a huge task, especially if you have a bus to catch.  The advantage of that bus, of course, is that you get the kids out of the way—which makes cleaning easier, at least once you get to it. 

So, the first step is to remove the “war paint.”  I accomplish this with a quick, but thorough bath.  It’s not the fun, lingering bath the boys love.  It starts with a rough scrub.  Fill the tub with only enough water (hot, but not too hot) to cover the child’s hips when seated.  Scrub off all the visible poo.  While you might be tempted to use an old washcloth, be sure to use one with enough texture to make for a good scrub.  It also helps to have a nail brush, because the poo gets under those (frequently long) nails and doesn’t come out in a soak, let alone a quick scrub down.  Scented soap—like lavender nighttime babywash—also helps cover any lingering odor.

Then, once all the visible poo is gone, let the water out, but keep the child in the tub.  Rinse both child and tub thoroughly.  Then, fill the tub again, this time with the usual amount of water you use and a daytime soap (you don’t want them to be drowsy).  Use a new washcloth.  Wash thoroughly.  Hair, face, arms, back, hands, everywhere.  Rinse and let the tub drain.  Then, since you’re short on time (at least, you will be if morning baths aren’t your usual routine), get the child dried and dressed yourself.  This is not the time to work on self-care skills.  If at all possible, keep everyone—including yourself—out of the offending area.  I set out the morning’s clothes the night before, outside the bedrooms, so this is pretty easy for me.

Next, finish the morning routine, making sure all kids get to their buses on time (or, if you have to drive them, that you make it to the schools in time).  This is rough on everybody, because the normal routine is shot, but there’s not a lot you can do to help that.  Try not to make it too different, because such breaks in routine can be traumatic and that will make your job harder.

Once the kids are out of the house, go back up the room.  Wear cleaning gloves if you have them.  Use disposable cleaning supplies (wipes, paper towels, ect.) whenever possible.  Have designated poo supplies for those tasks that require less disposable cleaning tools (brushes, buckets, ect.).  I also recommend using one kind of disinfecting cleaner for poo (and possibly vomit) and one for everything else.  If you or anyone in your household is sensitive to smells, then that smell, even though it’s a clean smell, is going to be associated with poo smearing in, and you don’t want to associate regular cleaning tasks with poo smearing if it can be avoided.  I used liquid Lysol and to this day (years after the last major smearing incident, which, by the way, means they just might grow out of it!) I can’t smell liquid Lysol without gagging.

Start with the carpets or floors first, because you have to walk on them to reach everything else and you don’t want to step in it.  Start with the spot closest to the door.  Work your way into the room.  Be careful not to kneel (if possible) in a spot you’ve cleaned.  Check the whole floor.  Don’t rely on what you notice first.  Check the floor thoroughly, every spot, even under beds and other places that are easier for your child to reach than they are for you.  Then, move on to the surfaces.  Scrub the cloth surfaces (anything that can’t go into the washing machine) first.  Then move on to hard surfaces.  Check all surfaces.  Then, move on to walls, doors, and don’t forget the doorknobs.

I recommend piling the soiled laundry in the tub until you’re ready to deal with it, but unless you know you have two loads, don’t start washing laundry until you’re done cleaning other things—you’ll want those rags in there, too.

Once you’re sure you’ve cleaned everything in the primary room, and gotten the soiled laundry out, check the surrounding areas.  Search for poo, especially in the bathroom.  When you’re sure you’ve gotten it all, wash the soiled stuff in the washing machine.  Use bleach or OxyClean, but not both (they don’t mix well).  Put it through a full wash—all the soiled stuff together, even if you wouldn’t usually wash them together.  Then, take them out of the washer, check for stains, smell for lingering odors, use Febreeze on those items that still smell and use stain remover on anything stained, and then sort them with whatever other laundry you have.  Wash them again.  Don’t forget to go back and clean the bathtub, too.

By now, the room should be a bit drier from the cleaning.  Use paper towels to soak up lingering dampness.  Then use Febreeze on the whole room.  Every cloth surface that can be sprayed with Febreeze should be sprayed with Febreeze.  Wait for that to dry, and then vacuum.

If you have to throw up, go ahead and throw up.  If you have to cry, go ahead and cry.  In fact, I recommend crying, because crying acts like a release valve, letting off the “steam” of frustration, tension, anger, and other negative emotions that would otherwise get pent up and build until they explode.

Once everything’s clean, take a shower.  Scrub yourself thoroughly.  No matter how careful you were not to get any of it on you, you’ll still feel dirty—at least, I always do.  After you take a shower, since now your bathtub is clean, feel free to take a nice, soaking bath.  That, too, can help heal the trauma of having to clean up after smearing.

Maybe even treat yourself to something nice.  I recommend a non-food treat, like maybe an episode of your favorite television show (if you don’t have DVDs, try Hulu or the website of the station that airs the show) or movie.  Yes, I know, you don’t have time—you’re schedule is already way off track—but, really, make the time.  Surviving a smearing is more than just cleaning the mess.  You need to cope with the trauma, too; and it is traumatic, it is disgusting, it is frustrating.  Give yourself time to recover, and then let it go.

A De-Stressing Surprise

  • Posted on September 3, 2011 at 9:51 PM

So, while I was taking a short break from blogging in order to make more time to help my boys transition back to school I was also researching an article idea I had about stress and parenting children with special needs. I wanted to provide my potential readers with a greater understanding of what stress is and how to cope with in relation to the challenges of special needs parenting. As a reasonably well-educated and well-adjusted mother of three children with autism, I thought I could write from a position of authority on this topic.

I wasn’t wrong, but I wasn’t right either.

You see, for some silly reason I thought I had a pretty good handle on my stress. Maybe, relative to some, I do. But, as I started researching the signs of excessive stress (or, to be particular, excessive unmanaged stress), I realized that I wasn’t managing my own stress as we as I should.

The following list describes some symptoms of unmanaged stress and my reactions. You might want to check your own reactions, because the consequences of unmanaged stress are bad for your health (not to mention your ability to parent your children effectively).

Symptoms (my responses):

  • Memory difficulties. (Um, what was the question again? Um, yes, I got that.)
  • Difficulty concentrating. (While I’m sure my children being out of school—and the subsequent increase in volume—is part of it, concentration has been an issue.)
  • Poor judgment. (Not so much…unless I’m judging that poorly.)
  • Seeing only the negative. (Not only the negative.)
  • Anxious or racing thoughts. (Um, yeah, but that’s kind of normal for me.)
  • Constant worrying. (Again, normal—for me.)
  • Aches and pains. (Not really.)
  • Nausea, dizziness. (Thank goodness, no.)
  • Chest pain, rapid heartbeat. (Definitely not that.)
  • Frequent colds. (I work in a wet basement, so I’m not sure my perpetual sinus condition counts.)
  • Moodiness. (Unfortunately, yes.)
  • Irritability or short temper. (Yeah, I got that.)
  • Agitation, inability to relax. (I’m getting better, really I am!)
  • Feeling overwhelmed. (Does it count if you are actually overwhelmed?)
  • Sense of loneliness and isolation. (Nope. The boys are way too loud and active for me to feel lonely or isolated.)
  • Depression or general unhappiness. (Yes, but I’m clinical, so that doesn’t really count.)
  • Eating more or less. (I’ve eaten today, so I’ll count that as a ‘no.’)
  • Sleeping too much or too little. (Too little time=too little sleep. Duh!)
  • Isolating yourself from others. (Did I mention I work in a wet basement?)
  • Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities. (Um, well, yeah, there’s that…but only a little.)
  • Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax. (I’m addicted to cigarettes, but that’s not new. Though, stress is the reason I started to smoke and the reason quitting doesn’t go well. So, that’s a ‘yes.’)
  • Nervous habits. (Yeah, again, that’s kind of normal for me.)

The symptoms of unmanaged stress correlate rather closely with the symptoms of certain anxiety-related disorders. Go figure! I have been diagnosed with both depression and OCD, so it’s hard to separate out what’s going to be normal for me and what’s actually manageable stress, but it looks like I need to work on this some more.