Last year we were able to combine a trip to see our biomedical doctor with a holiday, and see some sights along the way. It had been many, many years since we’d done that, and with Autism along for a ride, it’s not exactly a smooth trip. We were pretty well prepared for most things, but still managed to stuff up completely on one instance.
We went to Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, and took BuddyBoy along in his pram – something he objects to most of the time now but thankfully at the time he was happy to sit in it. We decided to go on a trip on the small train that goes on a track around the Wildlife park, and get off at the other end to see the exhibits there. What we’d failed to factor in was BuddyBoy’s love of riding trains (something we hadn’t done for ages), and when we got off the train, he had a full blown meltdown.
We were struggling with the pram, our bags, the other children to make sure they all got off the train and were following, as well as an extremely strong little boy who desperately wanted to go back on the train. He was kicking and screaming (very loudly) and we were too embarrassed to even look up at the other people around us. I just wanted to disappear into the ground – feeling as if everybody was judging our child and consequently our parenting. The other children were embarrassed, too, and we did the best we could to try and remove ourselves from public scrutiny, but it wasn’t easy. Especially with the loud screeching going on. Finally he calmed down and we stopped to take some deep breaths.
Conventional parenting wisdom tells you not to give in when your child has a tantrum, as otherwise they will continue to manipulate others with their behaviour in order to get what they want. An Autism meltdown however has nothing in common with a ‘normal’ child’s tantrum and all rules go out the window. We were fully prepared to take our son back on the train, but unfortunately that was not possible – it had been mobbed by a large group of Japanese tourists and no seats were available. No matter how hard you try to avoid meltdowns in public, there are times it’s just not going to be possible.
We do use key phrases like “first, then” to help him understand what we’re doing, as well as a visual timer card. These work well as long as you use them BEFORE the meltdown happens – during a meltdown, he is incapable of hearing us, let alone understanding us or using reasoning.
There are other times when we get strange looks – like when we used to be able to take our kids to the playground (something BuddyBoy no longer allows us to do). He loves swinging, so would head straight for his favourite swing, and if it was in use he would try to pull off whoever was on there so he could have a turn. Which people probably would find amusing if he was one or two years old, but not at age seven. We get dirty looks from the other parents (perfectly understandable) and then have to stand there, forcibly restraining our squealing son while explaining to him that he needs to take turns.
Many times we will not correct our son’s behaviours, when we would have corrected them with the other children. As his developmental age is not the same as his physical age, we tend to parent him at the lower age – which for his seven year old body is closer to a two year old intellect. The gap between the two is getting bigger as he is getting older, as his intellectual development is not keeping pace with his age, so the differences are much more visible in public now. No doubt the strange looks will increase as he gets older.
I’d like Autism Awareness to educate people on the behaviours they can expect to see in public from children like mine, not just on the ‘special gifts’ that some of these children have.