Autism Meets the Emergency Room

Sometimes when I write about my kids, it’s really sweet and loving because being a mom is a joy and a blessing and I want to share all those warm, delightful feelings with whoever can restrain their gag reflex enough to tolerate reading my mommy-love word vomit.

Don’t worry. This is not one of those times.

(Look at you, all relieved. There there. It’s going to be okay, I promise.)

No. Today we’re going to talk about what it’s like to bring a child on the autism spectrum to the emergency room.

Andreas is 6. He was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in February of this year. The story of that can be found here. Suffice it to say, that Andreas is a bright boy who doesn’t like new people, new places, bright lights, loud noises, or being in pain. He struggles with conversation and making or maintaining eye contact. Are we setting the stage enough here? Are you imagining the train wreck I’m about to describe to you in detail? Good.

So we got a trampoline this summer.

(And everyone who’s ever worked in an ER or ortho clinic just did a collective cringe. I know you did. I saw the trampoline awareness poster in the ortho clinic and felt the harsh trampoline parent shame.)

On that trampoline, my children did jump. Even Rosalie, at 18 months was jumping like a little toddler pro. I feel the need to say that we don’t let the baby in with all the crazies big kids. And there’s a net around it. It’s like a bouncy prison play pen. I swear I’m a good mother.

You know who else jumped on that trampoline? My husband.

(And everyone who’s ever worked in an ER or an ortho clinic knows just threw up their hands in collective exasperation.)

Daddy got on the trampoline. Daddy bounced with the kids. And wrestled with the kids. And one night, while I was out with my mom, I got a phone call from the love of my life Father Of My Children.

“Um. Don’t rush home. Andreas got hurt on the trampoline. He’s crying, but I think he’s okay. I called the Health Link and they said to take him in to get checked just to be sure. But finish what you’re doing. It’s okay.”
-All the while I can hear my child sobbing in the background.

Don’t rush home?

That’s not what you say to the love of your life Mother Of Your Children when one of them is crying and needs to go to the emergency room to get looked at. And especially not when it’s the one with the autism that you have to explain to all the people who do all the nodding and being understanding.

Naturally, I stopped what I was doing and rushed home. Got the boy loaded into the van and started talking to him in an attempt to make him feel better. Note: talking to him is not what makes this kid feel better. Not talking makes him feel much better. But talking made me feel better so I asked him the questions that moms ask. Which is when I got the true story of what happened on the trampoline.

Daddy threw me on the trampoline.

It was at that very moment of confession, that my mother, who was still with me at that point, looked like she was going to rip the Father Of Her Grandchildren a new one. So I call Glenn and he tells me that they were jumping and wrestling and Andreas fell funny, and I ask him when he was going to share that information with me.
(Spoiler Alert: we’re still married and Glenn still feels awful about the trampoline incident.)

But don’t you even worry. Because Andreas was sure to share that information with every single person at the hospital who asked him what happened. The triage nurse. The admissions person. The nurses. The people at radiology who took his x-rays. The doctor. You know. Whoever was in ear shot in that hospital was well and fully aware that Andreas’ Daddy threw him on the trampoline.

When the doctor heard this tale of woe, and asked Andreas where his Daddy was right then, I replied by telling the nice doctor, “Daddy is in time out.”

Lucky for us, the ER wasn’t busy that night. There was a guy being guarded by a cop a few beds over, who was having some kind of episode. But it’s okay because Andreas took the laughing at face value and told me it sounds like someone is having a fun time. Obviously.

When asked by a nurse where he got hurt – was it his arm or his elbow? He looked at her like she was brand new and told her “no, it happened at home.”

While laying in the bed waiting for x-ray, he also told me, “the less I move it, the more it won’t hurt.” Always a good sign.

“the less I move it, the more it won’t hurt”

But the lights were bright and the noises were noisy and he wanted to go home. The nice thing about the hospital is that they always tell you what’s going to happen next. We’re going to weigh him. We’re going to take you guys to x ray. We’re going to sit on this little stool here and put his arm on the x-ray table and just bend it a little.

They can tell him what they’re doing but it doesn’t mean he understands why. And he was so, so brave, my fragile boy who didn’t know what was going on, while they took those awful x-rays that made him cry big, big tears while he sat very, very still in all that pain. But it was impossible to explain to him why they needed so many pictures and why he had to move his arm different ways. He wanted it over and so did his mama.

And when we got back to his bed after the x-rays he stopped talking. Just shut down, had enough, quit responding. He does that. The other day we had people over and once he’d had enough of all of us he asked me for his headphones so that he didn’t have to listen to all the talking. Politely, of course. Because telling people outright to be quiet would be rude.

He was told that after his x-ray, the doctor would look at the pictures and come tell us what’s what, and fix him up so we could home. Which means not much to a kid who takes everything literally if you don’t tell him when the doctor is going to come.

As we’re sitting there, him on the bed not talking to me anymore and just smiling at me when I asked him rude questions like, “do you want anything to drink?” because I’m a good mom, remember? – he just blurts out, loudly, “WHY IS THIS TAKING SO LONG?”

We’d gotten through triage, admitted, into a bed, and through x-rays in not very much time at all. I guess my smart boy figured the doctor would materialize him or herself in an equally timely fashion. Which would make it perfectly reasonably to ask what the hold up is so that the entire emergency room can hear you. I’ve said before that Andreas is very much like a little Sheldon (character from Big Bang Theory) and that gem of a moment is why.

Not to worry though because the doctor did show up, tell us that Andreas’ elbow was broken, instruct me to burn our trampoline, and get the ortho nurse to put his arm in a half-cast wrapped in a bandage, held together by a sling.

No longer making eye contact or conversation, the boy was ready to take his broken little elbowed self home to bed.

By the time we left Andreas had a new story to tell everyone who would listen.

Daddy threw me on the trampoline and broke my elbow.

Lord have mercy.


Edited because the first comment to this post had to do with social services being sent to harass us over this: this happened in July. Social services was not sent to harass us. Had they been, we’re an open book. And a boring book at that. Andreas has been followed by a developmental pediatrician, assessed by a psychologist, OT, and speech path, and closely monitored for allergies by a specialist since he was 2. Trust me when I tell you that the medical profession has my sweet boy in very good hands. With 4 kids, we’ve seen our share of doctor’s offices and the emergency room. They are hyper vigilant about abuse and unsafe situations for children and families – as they very well should be. If this blog turns into a debate over that, I absolutely will delete and block comments. This is not the forum for that. And also, because apparently it needs to be said, my hubby doesn’t bounce the kids on the trampoline anymore.

copyright (c) 2013 Jenna Pelias // all right reserved

24 thoughts on “Autism Meets the Emergency Room

  1. Hey, it was great to read your blog. I am a student studying radiography in the UK and am interested in doing research into how x-ray departments in particular can improve their service to those on the autistic spectrum. If you have any advice to me on how this can be achieved it would be so greatly appreciated (for example, do you think it would be beneficial for those on the autistic spectrum to perhaps have a visit to the x-ray department prior to an imaging appointment, or just simply get it over and done with). Thank you for sharing your story.


  2. Oh poor baby. We have had our share of ER visits as well for our 2 boys, and husband too. The worst was when I had to take my husband in because I hit him in the head with a club and split his eyebrow open to the bone. The nurse suggested counseling. I told him to be quiet too lest he find himself in the same predicament.


  3. He’s now 28, but, when he was 4, my son, Paul, ducked under something and whacked just above his lip on the blunt corner of a little table. Of course it split it open and I could see right away that he was going to need stitches. I gave him a dark red washcloth to hold on the cut so the blood wouldn’t scare him, and I spent the entire drive to the ER explaining to my little guy — who isn’t autistic but still didn’t like strangers or any kind of change — about how the doctor and nurses would need to look closely at it, they’d give him a shot by the cut so it wouldn’t hurt and then they’d have to sew it closed. Paul was tearful but calm and brave and kept saying, “OK” (sniff, sniff, sniff).

    We checked into the ER, and Paul continued to be a little tearful but calm while I stood by him. Then the doctor walked in. The first thing he said was, “You’ve got to go out.” I told him that my son would do well but only if I could be with him, I’m not squeamish, and I’m not a fainter, I’d sit down on the floor if I felt faint, and they had my permission to just ignore me if I did pass out. But he was adamant that I had to wait outside the room. So, I told Paul that I had to go out but I’d be right outside the room. Then the windup began: The tears became active crying, then wails that quickly turned into screams. I sat by the doorway watching 1, then another, then another nurse (they’re up to 4 now) go in. I finally had had enough. I no longer cared what the doctor said, I had stood up to go back in when a flustered nurse ran out and said, “The doctor wants you.” I walked in on the battleground. Four nurses and the doctor were trying to hold down my little boy who was screaming, fighting for all he was worth and swaddled in TWO “papooses,” and there was blood in the doctor’s glove from trying unsuccessfully to give Paul the shot. I touched Paul’s cheek and said, “Mommy’s here, Paul,” and he immediately stopped screaming. And I held his hand while the doctor finished up.

    I was SO angry!!! (Wish I could remember the experience with the humor you have.) I understand they probably get parents who get in the way, maybe even make it worse and/or faint on them. But, good grief, give us a chance! Some of us handle things like that pretty well and can be a big help to both the child and the professionals. And what would have just been a not-so-happy experience for Paul had been turned into a traumatic one.

    When we went back to have the stitches taken out, that same doctor asked me to PLEASE stay in with Paul. The doc didn’t know it, but I was going to stay with Paul that time whether or not he said I could. So there. πŸ™‚


  4. We had a trampoline when I was a teen. We used to jump off the garage and get some great air when we landed and bounced back off the trampoline from that height. I flew off it and right into the fence once. Ouch.

    But yes, we are keeping the trampoline, and Daddy does play on it with the kids but MUCH more carefully. πŸ™‚


  5. This was brilliant. I can totally sympathise after spending far too much time in the emergency room as a kid. And please, please don’t get rid of the trampoline!! Some of my favourite memories are from our trampoline which didn’t have nets and had exposed springs on which my brother and I used to try our best to bounce each other off of. And it’s still being used by our neighbours. They are totally the best way to get rid of excess energy without having to run round the yard.


  6. Omg. This is about the cutest kid I’ve seen lately…those eyes!!
    Super glad I moved on from the drama of the Halloween “summit” to read some real life funny stuff here.
    Jenna, you are my new favorite. “Nice, but kinda scary. Like Santa!” (Ok, that was a line from Despicable Me, but it might or might not still apply) πŸ˜‰
    So I have teens (pout) now. 16 year old boy and 13 year old girl. PLEASE pray for me…because recently I have taken to spending my weekdays, while my kids are at (thank God Almighty) public school, caring for a fresh, 2 year old girl – the daughter of a teacher at the elementary school in our neighborhood. It’s been fun…you know, getting a taste if that stage again…remembering nostalgically what it was like when I was there years ago….
    I’m just going to say to all my fellow moms of teens/inmates, we do sometimes forget and tend to pad the past, the “glory years” of parenting, so to speak. We say things to each other, moms of teens, like, “we had NO clue how easy we had it!”…and, “Pffft! We thought toddlers were difficult? Try sitting in the passenger seat of the car with a permit-holding 15 year old, and none of those helpful drivers ed passenger brakes at our feet. That’ll show whiney past-me (with a kid who naps daily) what real stress is!”
    Wait…I haven’t said it yet! What I would tell whiney past-me? It’s all rough. Period. My reducing the stress I felt mothering 2 very strong-willed preschoolers in light of the bigger problems I face daily with the same strong willed-but-now-teenaged


    1. Oops, didn’t get to finish!
      (cont.)…now teenaged, uh…”crazies” πŸ˜‰ …well, that didn’t really *actually* apply once I lived it, because, news flash, it’s all rough. It’s all hard in its own way. But it is all SO beautiful and precious in its own way too. From heartfelt conversations with teens as they begin to step toes into the adult world….back to Sesame Street and runaway Spaghettios found later in strange places (think belly button and diaper).
      It’s fun living life with all ages of (let’s face it) CRAZIES.
      **On a side note, I would really like to know where I can procure one of these
      prisons/”playpens” for my little charge?? I heard a rumor that you were choosing (were threatened) to sell yours? I may have a sweet deal to offer you in the form of 2 very mature teenage “nannies”. Just hit me up…I may even be able to arrange for a bonus gift, if you act now, of a precocious 2 year old.
      Limited time offer.
      xoxo Jenna, you’re a star!!


  7. Oh girl do I know your pain. Tiana broke her elbow falling off a trampoline last year. They were playing tag and little Miss Daredevil decided to run on the outside of the net. She got pushed and down she goes. This happened on a Monday. Not tears, just said her arm hurt. Tuesday she goes to gymnastics, does cartwheels, pull overs on the bars, some complaint about her arm but not much. Thursday rolls around and she is still holding her arm at an angle. Brought her to the doc and sure enough she broke her elbow on Monday! Such a high tolerance of pain, not sure if that is normal or just “learned” from her 2 yrs in an orphanage. Give that boy a hug and let him pick out what color his cast will be! Tiana picked orange…BRIGHT orange! πŸ™‚



  8. You guys are hilarious. PLEASE for the love of good times, feel free to post your funny, awful, or crazy emergency room stories. I’m sure whoever stumbles across this will appreciate reading them as much as I do.


  9. Aww! Poor little guy. I know how he feels (somewhat). I hate hospitals. It takes too long, and it’s too loud, and there’s crazy stuff happening everywhere. Although usually, I end up in the hospital through my own stupidity (see one of my latest posts: Why You Should Never Fence (With PVC Pipes))


  10. i am new to your blog, (sadly, how cliche that i found you b/c someone sent me the halloween post -which i also loved, btw- but i moved on to current things. love this post and your sense of humor and i will confess the most shocking thing i read was that you are… canadian? is that true? born and raised? i’m shocked! you are duly expanding my views of canadian humor. hee hee. i don’t normally read “mommy blogs”, (mainly b/c my kid is a teen now, and i have discovered that the word “terrible” has been wrongly misused on toddlers all this time, and i can find no comforting moms-of-teens blogs out there, because apparently there is no comfort, you just have to survive it, so i try to comfort myself by posting on facebook embarrassing things he says, hee hee!) BUT: i find your point of view refreshing and look forward to reading more! whee! i have two response/thoughts to your post: (i tried to keep them short. this is what short looks like. my apologies.)
    1.) daddy “doesn’t bounce the kids anymore”?… not even a little bouncy bounce? that’s a shame as it is obviously a favorite thing! haha. [i grew up with a trampoline (sans net) placed right next to the back door, so you could leap out the door and onto the trampoline. (heresy!) sometimes you bounced too hard and hit the house. no joke. or fell off into the pricker bushes. one person bouncing – we learned- was good; two people could get the ba-bounce! trajectory launching you into space. we teenagers loved that. also for future reference: 10 teenagers can almost break a trampoline/ touch the ground/finally make dad mad. that poor trampoline survived us 5 kids and our friends, and it is now bouncing the grandchildren. it is rusty now, and also has “the net”. and little lukey demands that his favorite auntie take him out on it in some of his first words and a pointed finger: “beckah bounce! (implied: me now!!) don’t bother telling him you can’t because it’s loaded with 3 feet of snow and it won’t bounce. so we shovel the show off, bundle him up, and throw him on the trampoline. heaven.]
    2.) love those crazy things kids say/ keeps us on our toes! they just do not know how to supply sub-text, do they? no matter how hard i’ve tried. [my kid was a cautious child, not jumper-off-the-highest-stairs type. he literally said when he was 3, regarding jumping off a CURB: “oh, no. i might fall down and hurt myself”. ?! he was a bit of a challenge for his dad, you might say, who is more of the athletic, dare-devil type. haha. but that’s not to say he didn’t like a good wrestle and “playing rough”, as my family calls it. amazingly, we have managed to attend the ER quite a few times: once, after (play)fighting with me after a particularly good episode of lynda carter’s wonder woman, he cut his eye on the steel corner of a trunk and needed many stitches. he told the doctor he was playing wonder woman with his mom. the doctor told him maybe he should say he was doing something else, perhaps spiderman fighting off bad guys. and my son asked why? (don’t get me started, that’s a whole ‘nother conversation! as if a 6 year old has that kind of awareness that what he is doing isn’t “cool”. sheesh.) but he was truthful for most things, and would say things truthfully as he understood it– but missing some crucial sub-text. a favorite: “my dad hit me in the eye” (…with a baseball. while i was learning how to catch). we told him that didn’t sound right to people and that he shouldn’t say those kind of things without the full story. so he thought carefully, then amended his first statement “my dad hit me in the eye” by adding: “BUT HE TOLD ME NOT TO TELL YOU.”. fun times!]

    glad to have discovered your blog/ keep it up.


    1. Oh Rachel, can we be best friends?? Seriously! Jenna messaged me and said I had to check out your comment because surely we could weep over our terrible teenagers together! ( I have 4 ages 13-18) They make me cry daily. I just posted a status on th weekend that my 30 year old self with 4 1-6 yr olds didn’t know how good she had it. Teenagers are utterly exasperating! I support you from afar! Rock on mama!


      1. thank you, juanita! and jenna! i am checking out your blogs, and the mothering well, and am already finding such good juicy stuff you don’t even know. seriously, thank you! this is what i need. you will hear from me again! (p.s. please don’t mind me poking fun at canadians/ -i’ve got some dear best friends who are canadian, and i love to make them gag when i tell them that one my favorite shows of all time is Due South and they think i’m making fun of them, but actually, it’s the truth. πŸ˜‰ (pps- i have a blog that i stopped writing in, ~ for a variety of reasons~ one being i was boring myself to death, but i may yet get back into it someday. but i look forward to reading more of yours’s. (plural. is that a word?) you both are inspiring me. carry on…


  11. Right up there with “Daddy threw me on the trampoline” for me is “I have an apple in my nose,” coming from my oldest daughter when she was about three and a half. Turned out to be a partially-popped popcorn kernel that she’d thought definitely needed to be inhaled (how could she not?), which resulted in calls to the pediatrician, a visit to the ER, medical use of liquid cocaine, and an ENT.

    Or, several years later, the discovery of why my youngest had a drippy nose. Silly band + sinuses = adventure.


  12. When he was seven, my son (who is not on the spectrum) had a BEAUTIFUL black eye from playing catch with his dad.. and told everyone that his dad threw the ball too close to his face.. because he would have caught it if Dad had only thrown it right! Social services didn’t come see us for that either… πŸ™‚


  13. This happened in July and nobody hassled us. They don’t sic social services on every family who ends up in there with a kid with a broken arm where I live. Especially when we tell them straight up honestly exactly what happened.


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