Sunday, 15 September 2013

Autism, Eating Out, and Friends

As autism parents and parents in general, we all have our own personal fears, things we avoid.  My biggie since diagnosis (and John’s too unfortunately) is taking the kids out.  They are so stinking unpredictable- Jack’s meltdowns have become less frequent but when they happen, look out!  And Nate is fine….until he’s not, and once again, look out!  When the boys were first diagnosed we had a string of rotten experiences taking the boys places- now granted at the time we had not stopped to weed through what was appropriate to expect the boys to handle given the circumstances.  We were trying to “soldier on” and go to places like Christmas Eve church services, long dinners in a large group, places where there was no “escape” route should the inevitable happen.

This chain of events has made us pretty gun shy.  And my husband has an even harder time with it than I do.  I am guessing this is because I take them more places by necessity- the doctor, shopping, play dates, etc.  My husband definitely drags his feet when it comes to taking the kiddos out, and I get it.  At the same time, there is no way to teach them how to adapt to their surroundings, to cope with sensory overload, except to expose them to these very things.  Gradually. 

Thus far I have been doing this by taking the boys out in one on one situations by myself.  And it has gone pretty well.  But we need to be able to go places together, we need to get over this fear, the past issues that we had.  Some ways to make going out less nerve wracking- aim for individual events only- such as a movie, and just a movie, or a meal, in a “friendly” arena, and just that.  It also helps to have safety in numbers.  We have been lucky in that we have met several great “autism families” in the past year or so. Going out with another autism family is very helpful for us; does someone usually have a meltdown??  Yup.  But we are among “friends”.  Sometimes it isn’t one of my kids but one of theirs and vice versa.  Either way, there is a built in support system for either family.  Everyone is trying to accomplish the same goals- to minimize sensory issues, to be in a venue where screaming is not necessarily noticeable, and to get food on the table asap!   

Some may say this is catering to one’s kids, spoiling them, and go back to that whole autism is a result of spoiling your child thing.  WRONG!!!  Remember this people, we all started out on a level playing field in this parenting game.  I was in a wedding when Jack was 4 weeks old and took him with me!  I took him to big family events and social events when he was quite little, I didn’t coddle him.  The changes in our routine came as a result of his sensory issues, his reactions to these experiences.  Bottom line…he is not a brat.  And we are not “enabling” him, unless by “enabling” you mean empowering him to find new coping methods.  This is a common misconception among parents of neurotypical kids- that we are using our kids as an excuse to miss social events, (oh okay I have been guilty of this once or twice)  or that we don’t push them hard enough.  To people who are thinking this when reading this entry- let’s try this- you take ONE, just one of my kids for a weekend.  You will never, ever say this to me again.  When you take Jack to a playground for “fun” and the minute he jumps out of the car he is about 5 seconds from a meltdown because of the crowds, the noise, and the, gasp, bugs, you will get it.  Trust me!

So the point is, we took the boys out to dinner with another family last night.  And it was a smashing success- the restaurant was a combination of low key and noisy (like the kind of noisy where you can scream at the top of your lungs and no one notices), and yes that is possible.  There were foods that fit the kids’ dietary restrictions that they actually liked.  None of the kids had a meltdown, and neither did the parents, thanks to some margaritas.  The family that we were with takes their kids, one neurotypical and one on the spectrum, out frequently on errands etc.  I am in awe of this, as we have not been so brave in the past.  It’s good for us to be around them, to realize that the kids’ meltdowns cannot rule our lives and plans forever.  It’s a bit different having two kids on the spectrum with basically opposite sensory needs, but still, we made this work, we can make other outings work too. 
Autism is the ultimate brain teaser for both parents and kids.  If you consider yourself intellectual, you would love certain aspects of being a parent to a child with autism.  I am constantly planning, anticipating possible reactions/possible stressors, and thinking of work arounds should the worst happen;  I plan every entry to a store (Nate still cries every time we walk into a store) and exit (which is when Jack usually gets upset).  I am constantly assessing- constantly being tested mentally by my kids.  It’s definitely a challenge, but with work and experience, I am realizing that we don’t have to miss things.  John and I will always be challenged to work together in tandem in ways that other parents might never even think of.  While this can be tough on a marriage and family, it also rewards us with a deeper level of intimacy and understanding.  We were driving home last night and Jack was freaking out- I think over a peppermint?- and saying everything he could think of to shock us- his new technique.  John and I almost had tears running down our cheeks and were working like anything not to laugh our butts off.  Others would listen to Jack and think he is this naughty child- only my husband and I know the truth- the kid is going for shock value and frankly has little to no idea what he is saying.  He is pulling it all from you tube world war II airplane videos- which by the way, not so politically correct. 


  1. Jenny, The four of you... are welcome ANYTIME to come hang out with us. We know and understand where you are coming from as we are in the SAME SHOES.....sort of anyhow....but we understand. I will always be here for you to vent to, to listen to, to give a hug if need be....... We love the 4 of you and enjoy being around you. You are an inspiration to more than you even know.

  2. Which restaurant? Always looking for a good one where the kids can be somewhat loud!

  3. Beautiful share very informative and honest. Thank you for sharing and teaching me so much about Autism. Look forward to more of your posts :)