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!